Thursday, December 28, 2006

Massachusetts SJC ruling on gay marriage constitutional amendment

Of course, all this hoo-hurrah in Massachusetts is involved with political posturing by our current governor Mitt Romney, who wants to run for president. Here is a brief summary from the Boston Globe

Romney, who has taken increasingly conservative stands on social issues such as gay marriage ahead of an expected bid for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential race, charged that legislators had subverted the state constitution on November 9 when they took no action on the proposal.

More than 170,000 people signed a petition that asked lawmakers to put the culturally divisive issue before voters in 2008. The initiative seeks to reverse a 2003 decision by the same court that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Lawmakers voted 109 to 87 to recess before deciding whether to put the amendment on the 2008 ballot, a step that appeared to kill the proposal.

By adjourning the constitutional convention until January 2, the last day of the legislative session, the Democratic-controlled legislature virtually guaranteed the proposed amendment will not be taken up, prompting protests by gay marriage opponents and celebrations by supporters.


Although Romney has consistently opposed gay marriage, the one-term governor has been criticized for shifting his position on gay rights. During a failed 1994 run for U.S. Senate, he promised a gay Republicans group he would be a stronger advocate for gays than Democratic rival Sen. Edward Kennedy.

On December 27, 2006, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its unanimous decision in Doyle v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, in which Governor Mitt Romney asked the court to force the Massachusetts legislature to vote on a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in the state. The court ruled that, while the legislature has a constitutional duty to vote, due to separation of powers under our state constitution, the court has no power to force the legislators. I agree with the statement by GLAD's Lee Swislow:

The court has ruled on this question repeatedly, and today’s decision is consistent with what they’ve said before: that the legislature cannot be compelled to vote. The ruling maintains the critical separation of powers between the branches of government.

The Legislature has consistently refused to insert discrimination into the Constitution. Legislators have not only the freedom, but the right and the responsibility to vote their conscience. It is never right for the majority to vote on the rights of minorities.

As the court has said many times before, voters who don’t like what their legislators are doing can vote them out of office. Voters have in fact returned pro-equality legislators to office, and have voted anti-equality legislators out. Massachusetts voters have clearly told the Legislature how they feel about this issue: Massachusetts voters support marriage equality.

Marriage equality has been good for Massachusetts, its families, and its communities. The right and the ability of same-sex couples to marry is now part of the social and legal landscape of our state. It’s here for good, and it is time for everyone to move on.

Read the decision

See the archived oral arguments in front of the SJC here hosted by Suffolk University.

Read a Globe article, and a second, here

See the GLAD website with a press release, and more. GLAD has a very information rich website, with lots of court decisions, advisory opinions, briefs and more.

See web home of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a proponent of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which hails the ruling as a victory, as much as the GLAD folks. This website plans to cover the next short legislative session, at which they hope the amendment will come to a vote. Their website also reports in detail on how legislators voted on whether to bring the constitutional amendment to a vote.

Also visit Vote on, the online home of the campaign to bring gay marriage up for a vote by Massachusetts voters.

To me, this is so clearly a civil rights issue. How would it be if we brought up for majority vote whether there could be interracial marriages, or minority groups have voting rights or can attend schools with whites? The rights of minorities should NEVER be decided by majority vote!


Jim Milles said...

Admittedly I'm not in the thick of the gay marriage debate, so I don't feel the pain that my gay friends must feel as the debate drags on--but I'm more and more convinced that the opponents of gay marriage and gay equality are doing nothing more than delay the inevitable civil rights victory. There are simply no credible arguments the right can make against gay equality, and I suspect the hard-core opponents of gay marriage are a loud, but small, minority. There aren't many things about the future of our country that I feel hopeful about right now, but this is one of them.

Betsy McKenzie said...

I hope you're right, Jim! This seems like such an obvious parallel to the 60's civil rights battles that I am ashamed the country is so slow to take the right steps.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Well, the legislature voted to allow the public ballot on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the Bay State. There were TWO roll call votes on Jan. 2 on whether to present the amendment for voting in 2008. Only 50 votes were required to put the measure on a statewide ballot. They got 61 in the first vote and 62 in the second. Bear in mind that 132 legislators voted AGAINST the measure the first round and 134 voted AGAINST the measure the second vote. The roll-call was, I suppose, a way to intimidate legislators. However, the November elections threw out seven anti-marriage legislators and replaced them with supporters. In addition, our just-past governor, Mitt Romney, strongly opposed gay marriage. Our newly elected and sworn-in governor, Deval Patrick, supports it. I think there will be more votes in the legislature in the coming year. If the legislature does not stop the ballot, there will be huge lobbying efforts, not least by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. They need to be reminded that meddling in politics carries the risk of having their tax-exemption stripped.