Same-Sex Marriage Divides Mass.

Times Staff Writer

For two marathon days, Massachusetts legislators argued about whether to amend the state constitution to accommodate same-sex marriage. But the 200-member Legislature was hopelessly deadlocked, said House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, a Democrat.

The schism, Finneran said, sliced through every segment of a commonwealth that remains deeply split over whether to become the first state to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

“We’re as divided as the Supreme Judicial Court,” said Finneran, referring to the state’s highest court, which voted 4 to 3 to legalize same-sex marriage. “We’re as divided as the people of Massachusetts.”


The logjam late last week was exacerbated by the strong presence in Massachusetts of the Roman Catholic Church. Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley weighed in hard, condemning same-sex marriage and making it clear that Rome did not think much of the idea, either.

In terms designed to resonate with the scores of Catholic legislators on Beacon Hill, the archbishop admonished, “Legislators must reclaim their appropriate place in debating and enacting laws that address so fundamental a societal building block as recognizing that marriage has been, is and always will be a union between a man and a woman that is ‘by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.’ ”

To hammer home his point, O’Malley cited as his source the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1601.”

But the rift over same-sex marriage went beyond the collision between the state’s liberal social culture and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Nearly 100 rabbis took out a newspaper ad supporting same-sex marriage.

In an additional statement, O’Malley and every Catholic bishop in Massachusetts joined with leaders of more than 3,000 churches, mosques and synagogues to oppose marriage for gays and lesbians.

Conservative Christian groups also entered the fray, sending delegates from around the country to lobby legislators in the Bay State.

Normally, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon shuttles between Anaheim and Washington in his capacity as founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Last week he added Boston to his itinerary, so he could personally urge lawmakers to vote against same-sex marriage.

“This is a defining moment for the nation, and this is the mother lode of all states -- Massachusetts,” Sheldon said in a Statehouse hallway.

“What happens here defines what happens in the rest of America,” Sheldon said. “That is why I am here.”

Intensifying the split, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney repeatedly told lawmakers that a constitutional amendment defining marriage was important. But he emphatically advised the Legislature not to include a provision creating civil unions in an amendment.

“Civil union, in my view, is best left to the legislative process, not the constitutional process,” Romney said.

The governor said his staff was busy last week fielding inquiries about the same-sex marriage debate from around the country -- including Washington, D.C., and the White House.

Romney also expressed concern about the sluggish nature of the state’s three-step amendment process.

Under the speediest of conditions, no amendment barring same-sex marriage could take effect before November 2006. But the ruling from the state’s highest court that legalized same-sex unions is to take effect May 17, barring a stay.

“I am looking to minimize disruption of the commonwealth,” Romney said, adding that his legal advisors were exploring “a wide range of options.”

At least one recent poll showed the public evenly split on the issue.

Several other surveys give opponents of same-sex marriage a slight edge.

In sessions that lasted deep into the night, lawmakers last week voted down four separate amendment proposals.

As a filibuster by opponents of any amendment restricting gay marriage ended last week’s constitutional convention, lawmakers appeared to have fallen into three camps.

Voting patterns showed that close to 100 -- by far the largest group -- wanted an amendment limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Most of these lawmakers also oppose civil union -- although many were willing to compromise by including language stating that “nothing in this article shall require or preclude civil union.”

Rep. Phil Travis, a Democrat from Rehoboth, near the Rhode Island border, led the effort to narrowly define marriage in the state constitution.

“It has never been a debate in these United States except for these last 20 years,” Travis said, adding: “We are changing a mind-set that has existed in nature for 4,000 years. We are making Massachusetts not the birthplace of liberty, but the birthplace of marriage by two people of the same sex.

“We lose the point. We lose direction,” he said. “Why are 38 states in this union running to pass laws against this activity?”

More than 40 other members of the Legislature also opposed same-sex marriage. But this group wanted to establish civil unions that would ensure that gay and lesbian couples received the same rights and benefits as married people in Massachusetts.

Republican Brian Lees, the state Senate minority leader, called that position “a middle ground -- defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. However, the benefits for civil union couples would continue to be on the table.”

As the clock ran down on the constitutional convention, Lees -- who hails from western Massachusetts -- told his colleagues, “We as a body have an opportunity to indicate to everyone in the commonwealth of Massachusetts that we don’t want to discriminate.”

More than 50 legislators fell into the third faction, which supported gay marriage outright. Toward this end, two lawmakers moved to adjourn the constitutional convention and accept the high court decision as law.

They were resoundingly voted down.

The discussion will resume when the Legislature reconvenes March 11.