America's debate over gay marriage entered a decisive phase
Wednesday, as Massachusetts lawmakers held a constitutional
convention to consider amendments that would define marriage as a
union between a man and a woman.
But an impassioned day of debate ended with two such amendments
failing to muster the needed votes. It was a victory, for now at
least, for those who support gay marriage in a state that is now
America's central battleground on the issue.
The issue moved to the forefront of public debate last fall when
the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled unconstitutional any law
that denies men the right to marry men, and women the right to marry
Such weddings can begin this spring, but opponents of gay
marriage hope to block it in the longer term by amending the
constitution - a move that would begin at this current
constitutional convention and end with a statewide ballot in
But amendments fashioned by house and senate leaders failed to
receive the majority support needed. One of the votes was a
nailbiter, 98-100. Although it is possible that other versions could
pass Thursday, the two Wednesday votes represented a win for
supporters of gay marriage.
"I think they have plenty of reason to be pleased," says Charles
Baron, a law professor at Boston College.
Indeed, in the capitol's Hall of Flags room, where televisions
displaying the proceedings were set up, crowds jumped from the
ground and applauded jubilantly when the first amendment banning gay
marriage failed by two votes. Dozens of same-sex couples embraced,
while several cried. Lisa Stoddard and Brienne Smith immediately
asked a person nearby to snap a photograph of them as they stood in
front of a cheering room filled mostly with gay-marriage supporters.
"I am in love with her, and even though neither of us is ready to
get married, we love that we might get the opportunity," said Ms.
Stoddard of Somerville, Mass.
Many same-sex couples expressed appreciation for the legislators
who, they said, spoke with unexpected passion and eloquence. "I'm
really proud to be a citizen of this state right now," said Ms.
Smith, also of Somerville.
Legislators debated the first amendment for close to two hours.
Many of those in support argued that marriage as a union between a
man and a woman was an ancient institution validated by Judeo-
"Every society, every culture, every nation in all of recorded
history, including Massachusetts, has up until this point at least
defined marriage as one man and one woman," said House Speaker
Thomas Finneran (D).
Several legislators rose in opposition, calling gay marriage a
question of civil rights and likening their vote to the landmark
1954 US Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools.
After the hair's-breadth failure of the first amendment came a
second, proposed by Senate President Robert Travaglini (D). …