WASHINGTON (ABP) — Massachusetts legislators gave initial approval March 29 to an amendment that bans gay marriage, but explicitly authorizes identical benefits for same-sex couples.
However, the amendment cannot take effect until November 2006, at the earliest. So until then, the commonwealth is scheduled to become the first in the United States to recognize gay marriages at the state level.
Under orders from the state's Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts officials will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples May 17.
The constitutional amendment, approved by a 105-92 vote, would have to be re-affirmed by the legislature in its 2004-2005 session, then approved by voters thereafter. It says nothing about the legal fate of same-sex couples married in Massachusetts in the time between the issuing of marriage licenses and the enactment of the ban.
While banning gay marriage, the amendment would be the first to enshrine marriage-like “civil unions” in a state constitution.
That displeased many religious conservatives, who oppose any state recognition of gay relationships. “In an attempt to please everyone, Massachusetts legislators today pleased no one,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, in a statement released shortly after the vote was announced.
Perkins added that the decision was “nothing short of blackmail,” because “legislators know the people want to vote on the definition of marriage, but instead of giving them a clean bill, they are forcing them to pass civil unions at the same time.”
But the new president of a major gay-rights group — herself a former Massachusetts legislator — said the decision was only a “setback” on the “long road toward ensuring equality in Massachusetts and America.” Cheryl Jacques of the Human Rights Campaign added that, thanks to the gay couples who will be married between May and any popular vote on the amendment, “the people of Massachusetts and America will see that marriage equality is good for families and good for America.”
She predicted that voters would ultimately defeat the amendment after seeing marriage's benefits for same-sex couples and their children.
Gov. Mitt Romney (R), an opponent of same-sex marriage and civil unions, has said he will ask the Supreme Judicial Court to stay the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples until “the amendment process has run its course.”
However, the state's attorney general, Democrat Thomas Reilly, refused to seek the stay, saying it was obvious the court's majority would not stay its own ruling. The court ruled in November that the commonwealth's constitution requires the state to offer equal marriage rights to gays. It reaffirmed its decision in February.