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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mass. Marriage Ban Initiative 

Not satisfied with the legislature's proposed constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to one man/one woman but at the same time allow civil unions for same sex couples, a group of Massachusetts anti-marriage activists, both citizens and lawmakers, announced yesterday that they will be announcing tomorrow their their ballot initiative petition for a state constitutional amendment both limiting marriage and barring civil unions.

First, let me just toss in an aside that these announcements of announcements make me nuts. They're not announcing it tomorrow - they announced it yesterday. They'll be providing more details tomorrow, both regarding the petition itself and the people and groups behind it. I know, I know - it's a strategy designed to ensure a large turnout at the "official" announcement tomorrow. It still bothers me.

But back to the initiative. While the legislative proposal has already passed the required simple majority votes at the Constitutional Convention last year, and if it passes again this year (the convention is expected this fall) will be presented to the state's voters at the 2006 elections, this ballot initiative will not be able to go to the voters until the 2008 elections. Before getting there, though, the initiative's backers must convince 66,500 registered voters to sign their petition to limit marriage and deny legal recognition of or protection to same sex couples by way of civil unions. These signatures must be gathered between September 21 and November 23. If they get these signatures (and enough of the signatures pass scrutiny), then 50 of the state's 200 legislators must approve the measure in two consecutive constitutional conventions before the measure could go to the voters. The earliest it could be on the ballot is in the fall of 2008, when it would need a simple majority in order to have the marriage limitation and civil union ban written into the constitution.

Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus co-chair Arline Isaacson (who spoke at NESL this spring) questions the group's strategy, as it will likely lead to defeat of the legislative proposal and delay the general vote for two years. Many who voted for the marriage limiting/civil union establishing compromise amendment oppose the idea of civil unions, but supported the measure as the one most likely to pass last year (which it did). If these legislators see an option more palatable to their desire to invalidate same sex relationships, they are likely to vote this one down at the constitutional convention this fall. At that point same sex couples could continue marrying until at least November 2008, giving the citizenry a total of 4.5 years to experience the world not ending while thousands more couples choose to enter into the legally binding committment of marriage.

Exactly who all the backers of this petition are isn't clear yet, but they include State Representative Emile J. Goguen, who last year led the effort to impeach the Supreme Judicial Court justices in the majority on Goodridge, and Ronald A. Crews, former head of the Massachusetts Family Institute. Crews lost his bid to become a state rep. in last fall's elections. The MFI is expected to back the petition, but it has not yet made a formal statement. If you're interested in keeping tab on what the MFI is keeping tab, you can check their weblog. Always good to know what the other side is talking about.

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