Thursday, May 17, 2007

Opposition to Gay Marriage May be Waning in MASS

Opposition to Gay Marriage May Be Waning
by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Boston Contributor
Thursday May 17, 2007

Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston
Legislative support for a proposed ban on same-sex marriage in Massachusetts is waning on Beacon Hill, as supporters of marriage equality intensify efforts to prevent the three-year-old right to marry from being put up to popular vote, and opponents either reconsidering their positions or contemplating new jobs outside of the legislature.

Marriage equality proponents say they may be within three to four votes of killing a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts constitution, according to a Boston Globe article. The amendment would ban same-sex marriage and would further bar civil unions or domestic partnerships if voters in 2008 were to approve the measure.

But seeing the amendment go forward to the ballot would also likely prove a major distraction from business nationally, especially for the Democratic Party, according to the Globe. In 2004, Massachusetts found itself at the center of a social and political controversy when same-sex marriage was first legalized in the state. A 2008 ballot initiative to amend the state constitution and bar further marriages between same-sex couples would thrust Massachusetts into the same controversy for the second presidential election in a row.

State Rep. Brian P. Wallace, D-South Boston, is reportedly in the running for a job at the Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Commission. Wallace supports the proposed constitutional amendment, and his possible departure from the legislative ranks is seen as an opportunity by marriage equality supporters to strengthen their cause because were he to leave for the new position, it would probably be before the next constitutional convention, currently scheduled for June 14.

Four other state lawmakers who support the amendment may be reconsidering their positions, leading to very guarded optimism among supporters of continued marriage equality. Marc Solomon, campaign director for MassEquality, said, "There are legislators who are listening closely and are receptive to us, their constituents, to the married couples that are meeting with them, and are giving serious consideration to whether it makes sense to advance this to the ballot." According to the Globe, neither Solomon nor other sources would identify those lawmakers.

But concerns among leading Democrats that the Commonwealth could find itself replaying 2004’s election cycle, when the issue of same-sex marriage hobbled Democratic nominee John Kerry, has prompted Gov. Patrick Deval, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, and Senate President Therese Murray to intensify their efforts to win over colleagues who may be open to reconsidering their positions, and to solidify a common Democratic stance.

National names are also set to become involved, with Howard Dean offering his services and marriage equality proponents saying they have contacted John Kerry, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and members of the House.

Those opposed to marriage equality are also girding themselves for the fray. Kris Mineau, president of the anti-marriage Massachusetts Family Institute, denied that the proposed ban was losing ground, according to the Globe article, and said of lobbying efforts to preserve marriage equality, "This is a huge amount of money and a huge effort for one express purpose: to prevent the people from voting on the definition of marriage." Mineau cited the slogan that has become commonplace among marriage foes, saying, "If we are going to change the definition of marriage, only people can make that decision."

Only 50 out of the state’s 200 lawmakers need to vote for the proposed amendment for a second time to advance it to the ballot in 2008. At its first vote in January, the amendment advanced with an eight-vote margin. Now, according to the Globe, sources indicate that the margin may have dwindled to the point that only 52 lawmakers are committed to the amendment’s advancement. That barely extant margin is enough, however, to place family rights for gay and lesbian Massachusetts residents up to a vote.

It is the question of those rights that proponents of marriage equality have focused on. MassEquality has begun a campaign built on that argument and funded for $750,000 to deliver the message that marriage equality is a civil rights issue. The MassEquality media efforts include television spots showing three couples who have been able to marry since 2004. "We have never voted to restrict individual rights in this state, let alone sought to amend the constitution to take rights away," said Solomon. "We hope this campaign makes people aware of how unfair and dangerous this ballot measure is to everyone, not just committed gay and lesbian families."

But the civil rights argument may not be compelling enough to change enough minds top secure marriage for all Massachusetts families. Rep. Paul Kujawski, a Democrat from a conservative district who voted in favor of the amendment at the last constitutional convention, said, "I am listening to everybody. But if the vote were tomorrow, my vote would still be the same."

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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