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Massachusetts Nears Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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Times Staff Writer

The Massachusetts Legislature moved closer Thursday to adopting a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and establish civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Dashing the hopes of same-sex marriage supporters who had hoped to kill the amendment, lawmakers voted just before midnight to keep the bipartisan compromise measure alive.

The 121-77 vote set the stage for the amendment to go to a critical “third reading,” which effectively would finalize the measure for the legislative session. But when legislators reconvene March 29 for their next vote, the amendment will likely be burdened by a crush of modifications that could substantially change its meaning.

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Addressing same-sex marriage supporters in the Capitol’s Great Hall -- a 50-yard-long chamber in which spectators sat for hours on the marble floor to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV -- Marc Solomon of the Massachusetts Freedom to Marry Coalition conceded that the day’s voting had been a deep disappointment.

“But we are going to keep this going,” Solomon said. “We are going to come back day after day, convention after convention until we have our equal rights.”

Even in its final form, the amendment -- which would eliminate marriage privileges granted to gay and lesbian couples by the state’s highest court -- is at least two years away from appearing as a ballot initiative.

Under the Supreme Judicial Court ruling that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, couples will be eligible to marry as early as May 17.

The latest effort by lawmakers to circumvent that decision makes no provision for what will happen to gay and lesbian couples who marry during what could turn out to be a finite window of legality.

Reconvening Thursday in a joint session known as a constitutional convention, the House and Senate took up a measure dubbed “the leadership amendment” because it was introduced by top-ranking Republicans and Democrats. A similar convention last month ended with legislators deadlocked.

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During their four-week recess, lawmakers worked to gain support for an amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman -- but also guaranteeing civil-union status to same-sex couples.

The flurry of lobbying left legislators tense and, in some cases, no closer to resolving what several have called the most important vote of their careers. The polarizing debate about same-sex marriage that surged across the country after the Supreme Judicial Court decision compounded the pressure on state legislators.

More than 3,000 same-sex couples have married in San Francisco since Mayor Gavin Newsom gave his blessing to such unions on Feb. 12. In Multnomah County, Ore., more than 1,000 same-sex couples took out marriage licenses in less than one week after local officials authorized gay and lesbian weddings.

President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment to block gay and lesbian marriage. He used his State of the Union message to denounce court efforts to permit same-sex marriage.

Outside the Boston legislative chamber on Thursday, Gerry D’Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said: “I have been around here 29 years, and I have never seen anything like this.” The lawmakers, he added, “are fatigued, and they are trying to grapple with which direction they are going in.”

Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage began milling outside the Capitol about 6 a.m., two hours before the statehouse was scheduled to open and eight hours before lawmakers were to resume their often-heated discussions.

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Demonstrators came from as far away as Florida and California, using sidewalks outside the Capitol as a site for shouting matches. Thousands of people on both sides of the issue screamed epithets and slogans, brandishing signs that left little to the imagination.

“I took the red-eye and arrived in Boston at 6 this morning,” said Ruben Israel of Whittier. The 42-year-old owner of a construction company carried a poster aimed at same-sex marriage supporters that read “God Abhors You.”

“This is what Christians do on vacation,” said Israel, who said he bought a plane ticket to Boston because “we don’t want their sin to go to Los Angeles. Bad enough that it’s in Frisco. We’re trying to stop the cancer before it spreads out West.”

Standing nearby, Matt Bourgault, an evangelical preacher from Tallahassee, Fla., said he had been speaking out against gay and lesbian marriage at college campuses around the country. He called the prospect of men marrying men, or women marrying women, “a direct, in-your-face offense to God.”

Buses carrying protesters on each side of the issue ringed the Boston Common, where revolutionaries have gathered in this city since the 18th century. By 9 a.m., the vast underground garage beneath the common was filled. Police on horseback were poised at the corners of the common, although the crowd remained calm.

Inside the statehouse, more than 500 same-sex marriage supporters clogged a broad hallway opposite the legislative chamber. Starting soon after the building opened, they unleashed a torrent of songs, thundering a nonstop repertoire of patriotic anthems.

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Somehow, 6-month-old George Humphrey managed to sleep through the tumult, resting in the arms of one of his mothers, Claire Humphrey.

“He’s had a great day,” she said. “There’s lots of singing, and people are holding him -- we even found a little alcove so he could breastfeed.”

But his other mother, Vickie Henry, said she worried about what she would tell George and his 2-year-old sister, Lucy, if the Legislature barred same-sex marriage.

“How will we explain to our kids in a few years that the constitution got changed to hurt his family?” she asked.

At least the same number of opponents filled an adjacent corridor in the cavernous Capitol. “One man, one woman!” they chanted, their words echoing off the high ceilings.

“We have a few more people from our side this time,” said the Rev. Louis Sheldon of Anaheim, director of the Traditional Values Coalition, which also has headquarters in Washington. Sheldon said opponents of same-sex marriage organized to make sure they were well-represented.

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“Having blacks and Hispanics out there, on our side, that pretty much kills the argument that this is about civil rights or discrimination,” said Sheldon, who also attended last month’s constitutional convention.

But on the legislative floor, the possibility of adopting a compromise amendment left some lawmakers unsettled.

“This compromise serves no one. Who wants this?” asked Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Republican from Plymouth.

Of the thousands of letters, phone calls and e-mails to his office, deMacedo said, “I have yet to receive one phone call telling me to vote [for the compromise]. The people who want same-sex marriage don’t want you to vote for this. The people who want Ma and Pa don’t want you to vote for this. So I ask you, who is this pleasing? No one.”

Rep. Philip Travis, a Democrat from Rehoboth, near Rhode Island, pushed unsuccessfully in the last convention for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage without establishing civil unions.

“How does one reconcile voting for marriage as a union between a man and a woman and in the same paragraph say that two people of the same sex shall have the right to form a civil union?” he asked.

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Looking grim, he predicted: “Confusion reigns when this goes on the ballot.”

But Rep. Theodore C. Speliotis, a Democrat from Danvers, 18 miles north of Boston, said he had no confusion about rejecting a compromise amendment. Speliotis said he supported the Supreme Judicial Court decision, and saw no need to change it.

“How can you come here and say I am going to give you rights, but I am not going to give you the right to have the same title -- marriage?” he asked on the floor of the Legislature. “I worked too hard to get this job to vote in a fashion that tells an entire segment of the population that they are different and they are not acceptable.”

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