Legislature passes ‘compromise’ marriage amendment

After having spent dozens of hours debating the language of a constitutional amendment, legislators came to a conclusion March 29, approving an amendment that would uphold the traditional definition of marriage but at the same time create civil unions with benefits identical to marriage. The compromise left neither opponents nor proponents of same-sex marriage completely satisfied.

In order to reach the ballot in 2006, the amendment must be passed by the 2005-2006 Legislature at the next constitutional convention.

The amendment protects traditional marriage and says that “two persons of the same sex shall have the right to form a civil union if they otherwise meet the requirements set forth by law for marriage.” Civil unions would confer the same benefits of marriage, but would not provide federal benefits and may not be recognized outside of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the lobbying arm of the Catholic Church in the commonwealth, opposed adding civil unions to the amendment. The MCC had maintained that, if legislators insisted on creating same-sex unions, the question should be split from the amendment defining of marriage. The original Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment, known as MA and PA, did not include civil unions language. However, when it became clear that there were not enough votes in the Legislature to split the questions, the MCC encouraged legislators to vote for the so-called civil union compromise amendment.

“The reason we asked legislators to support [the compromise amendment] was to keep the issue alive in front of the voters, and that is what we have done,” Gerald D. D’Avolio, executive director of MCC. The amendment, which passed 105-92 on final reading, “gives the citizens an opportunity to look at the issue of marriage and take a position,” he said.

On one hand, it “gives the people an opportunity to vote on the issue and it also rejects four judges in the Goodridge case, saying the people are going to decide, not the judges,” D’Avolio declared minutes after learning the results of the final vote.

In November, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC) legalized same-sex marriage in the case of Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health.

Since then legislators have been bombarded with telephone calls, emails, letters and personal visits from those on both sides of the issue. Supporters and opponents of traditional marriage have converged in the thousands on the Statehouse for the past three constitutional conventions, making their voices heard to lawmakers.

Under such extreme pressure, “I think legislators realized that at least they needed to give something to the voters,” D’Avolio. “As much as the language of the amendment is a problem, it still defines marriage as between a man and a woman.”

For the past year, Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, chief sponsor of the original marriage amendment, has focused much of his time on preserving traditional marriage. Speaking to his colleagues at constitutional conventions during the past weeks, Travis urged them not to combine marriage and civil unions in one amendment. However in the final vote, he supported the compromise amendment in order to keep the amendment alive and protect marriage.

Travis explained that he voted for the amendment because the “union of one man and one woman is still in the amendment and people have to realize that that is the only marriage.”

“We could not get it all our way, but we got the best part of it — we protected marriage, and that’s a victory for anyone who is for traditional marriage,” Travis stated.

The civil unions measure that legislators passed will not satisfy same-sex couples, he continued. “They don’t want civil unions, they got civil unions and now they are like Vermont,” maintaining their civil union benefits only within the borders of Massachusetts, he said.

In light of the Legislature’s decision on the amendment, Gov. Mitt Romney said he will attempt to delay the issuance of marriage licenses, which the SJC said should begin May 17, pending the outcome of a popular vote on the amendment in 2006.

Speaking at a press conference immediately following the March 29 vote, Romney stated that issuing marriage licenses before citizens have an opportunity to vote on the amendment would cause a “good deal of confusion,” if voters choose to reserve marriage for the union of a man and woman.

“I believe that the Supreme Judicial Court has an obligation, to the Constitution and to the people of Massachusetts, to withhold their decision until the people can consider this issue themselves,” Romney said.

Despite the initial approval of a marriage amendment in the Legislature and Romney’s efforts to block the distribution of marriage licenses on May 17, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has expressed his intent to enforce the SJC’s decision. Reilly contested that Romney did not have a valid legal basis for his request.

The MCC did not rule out the possibility of seeking a further amendment to the state constitution that would ask citizens to vote solely for or against traditional marriage.

“There is always an opportunity to do an initiative petition by the will of the voters, which would get to the voters by 2008, but that can be started now with some sort of a petition drive,” D’Avolio told The Pilot in an interview following the vote. “That is something that we’ll have to explore later, but that is an option.”

D’Avolio encouraged Catholics, who mobilized like never before around the marriage issue, to continue their involvement in the public policy process. He also recommended that they personally thank their legislators “who have supported us all the way on this issue.”