Legislators deadlock on marriage

After two days of grueling debate, lawmakers, who proved to be deeply divided on how respond to the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) decision on same-sex marriage, adjourned the Feb. 11 constitutional convention without approval of any of the three proposed marriage amendments. The next time legislators will take up the issue is March 11.

On the first day the convention, hundreds of demonstrators held signs and waved American and rainbow flags outside the Massachusetts Statehouse. Still more demonstrators flooded the building’s hallways hoping for one of the 120 public seats in the House chambers. Those not lucky enough to have an up-close view of the day’s proceedings crowded two public auditoriums to watch the session on large screen televisions.

As senators and representatives convened for a 2 p.m. joint session, proponents and opponents of traditional marriage squared off outside the convention hall shouting chants of “One Man One Woman—Let the people vote!” and “Equality Now.”

During the opening minutes of the session, emotions ran high when, in a surprise move, Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran, D-Boston, offered his own marriage amendment in the midst of his opening remarks. Finneran’s proposed amendment would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman and leave the possible future creation of civil unions in Massachusetts up to the Legislature. The amendment was proposed to replace the original Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment, the so-called MA and PA amendment, proposed by Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth.

Advocating for his amendment, Finneran strongly condemned the SJC’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, saying it has caused “extraordinary division and extraordinary controversy.”

He attempted to persuade his colleagues that the court overstepped its bounds in its Goodridge decision by mandating same-sex marriage. “You were the appropriate people to decide for the people of Massachusetts,” he told his fellow legislators.

“The people themselves must be given the opportunity to be heard. This amendment gives them that opportunity,” Finneran said. “We are agents; we are stewards. In the end, they must speak.”

Though Travis threw his support behind the Finneran amendment, it was narrowly defeated by a vote of 100-98. Many lawmakers expressed concerns that the Finneran amendment did not go far enough to ensure possible establishment of civil unions in the future.

Speaking outside of the chamber, Daniel Avila of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) felt “absolute disappointment” when he heard that Finneran’s amendment had been defeated.

“It was a very good approach to dealing with the concerns of those who, on one hand had some questions about Rep. Travis’ amendment, but on the other hand [Finneran’s] proposal was very strong on reaffirming marriage,” said Avila.

Next up for consideration was an amendment proposed by Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, D-Boston, and Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees, R-East Longmeadow. The amendment recognized traditional marriage but went on to constitutionally establish civil unions that would grant same-sex couples “all the benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities under state law as are granted to spouses in a marriage.”

Numerous supporters of the Travaglini-Lees amendment called same-sex marriage a civil rights issue and argued that “discrimination” should not be inscribed into the constitution.

Travis, however, strongly condemned the Senate amendment saying it did a disservice to the people by asking them to vote on “two different principles” — marriage and civil unions.

Rep. A. Stephen Tobin, D-Quincy, called the Travaglini-Lees amendment “a poison pill.”

“You are voting against gay marriage but at the same time putting into the constitution some measures for gay unions,” Tobin explained. “When it gets to the ballot, it will fail. It will. And you will be left with same-sex marriage by default.”

At around 8:30 p.m., six hours after the convention began, the Legislature took its second vote and defeated the Senate amendment 104-94. After seeing his amendment defeated, Travaglini recessed the convention until noon the following day.

The second day of the constitutional convention featured more impassioned pleas and increased frustration on the part of pro-traditional marriage legislators, who faced stall tactics by same-sex marriage supporters who pushed the convention to its midnight deadline without a vote. Demonstrators urging same-sex marriage kept vigil outside the convention for its 10-hour duration.

Twenty minutes into the convention, Travis offered a revised version of his original amendment intended to placate legislators interested in establishing civil unions. Language saying that any relationship other than marriage “shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent” was withdrawn and replaced with a statement, which said that nothing in the amendment “shall require or prohibit civil unions.”

“Why am I gutting my own bill? I am not. I am making a better bill,” Travis explained to legislators. “We do love everyone equally. The change states that this [amendment] will be neutral in the sense that nothing in this article called marriage will reflect on the ability from this day forward when voted on by the people to allow civil unions to take place in Massachusetts.”

After an hour-long recess, the Legislature reconvened around 3 p.m. Lees alluded to the filibuster that was to come by asking his fellow legislators for “some time” to work out an amendment that would show Massachusetts residents that “we don’t want to discriminate.”

Sensing that the convention could close without a passing an amendment, Travis admonished his colleagues saying, “You will not escape the wrath of the public who are calling you, who are writing you. They know the facts.”

“For us, to have the audacity to take that right away, it is not going to fly back home,” Travis continued. “You will be held responsible. You will have to answer to those who got you here.”

Travis’ revised amendment was defeated around 7 p.m. by a vote of 103-94.

The convention briefly recessed, and the intensity increased when another amendment worked out by the House and the Senate was introduced that allowed for civil unions with “entirely the same benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities of marriage.” The amendment would also protect same-sex couples who married in the interim of the May 17 deadline and the 2006 amendment.

The convention recessed again for a one-hour Republican caucus and returned after 10 p.m. Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton, began reading a newspaper article from the podium — making it clear that same-sex marriage supporters planned to filibuster until the midnight deadline. Over a dozen House Democrats and Republicans walked out of the chamber briefly to protest the filibuster, shouting, “We want a vote!”

Travaglini allowed only same-sex marriage supporters to speak during the last two hours of the convention. Because a unanimous vote is needed to extend a convention past the designated hour, the constitutional convention ended without a vote.

Both Travis and the MCC denounced the filibuster as thwarting the will of the people, who want to decide how marriage is defined. Ronald A. Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute and spokesman for the Marriage Coalition, also reacted negatively to the tactics of same-sex marriage supporters in the Legislature.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed that the business of the constitutional convention was not concluded,” Crews stated. “Tens of thousands of Massachusetts citizens said they want to vote on marriage, and their lawmakers have not yet give them that opportunity.”

“We are still in the fight, and it’s not over yet,” said the MCC on its website. According to the MCC, another version of Travis’ and Finneran’s first amendments will be presented at the March 11 convention by Rep. Paul Loscocco, R-Holliston.