Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Thanks, Steph...

Lawmakers OK Same-Sex Wording

Ban Could Be Adopted By Voters In 2006

Mar 29, 2004 12:20 pm US/Mountain
BOSTON (CBS) The Massachusetts Legislature adopted a new version of a constitutional ban on gay marriage Monday, bringing the lengthy process one step closer to completion for the year and eliminating consideration of any other proposed changes to the language.

If endorsed by voters in November 2006, the measure would define marriage as a heterosexual union and simultaneously legalize civil unions.

Monday's swift vote, which appeared to take some lawmakers by surprise, eliminated several other amendments, one of which would have weakened the civil union provision and another which would have split the question in two, allowing voters to weigh in separately on gay marriage and civil unions.

The Legislature must still take two more votes before the amendment is considered approved for the session. If that happens, it will then proceed to the 2005-2006 Legislature for further consideration before going to the voters in the fall of 2006.

Under a state high court ruling issued in November, the United States' first state-sanctioned gay marriage will take place in Massachusetts on May 17. The constitutional amendment would have no effect on this deadline, but Gov. Mitt Romney has said he might seek a way to delay the marriages if a constitutional amendment is adopted this year by the Legislature.

Several legislators had to pause during the debate because of tears. The Bible has been quoted liberally - but so have the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan.

Sen. Robert Havern joked that those who are uncomfortable with gay sex should endorse same sex marriage, because everyone knows, "After marriage, there is no sex."

The Bible has been cited both as evidence of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and as an illustration that its verses might not, in every respect, be the best model for marriage laws.

"Solomon had 700 wives," Democratic Rep. Daniel Bosley noted on the floor. "I am not suggesting anyone try that."

At times, the debate seemed like a clip from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," with intensely personal stories about love, marriage, family, equality, heritage, race, and religion.

"I know the pain of being less than equal and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else," said Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a black woman who was raised in the South. "I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled."

Openly gay Sen. Jarrett Barrios was brought to tears when he told of a frantic telephone call to a hospital after his adopted 7-year-old son fell ill with a high fever. The nurse was reluctant to talk to him, he said, because the hospital's records listed only Barrios' partner as a parent.

"He could die on my watch while I was fighting with a nurse over whether I was his parent or not," the Democrat said.

There have been lengthy orations on long-standing traditions.

"Mother Nature left her blueprint behind and she left it in DNA, a man and a woman," said Rep. Marie Parente, a Democrat who opposes gay marriage. "I didn't create that combination, Mother Nature did."

And the Bible is not the only reference material making an appearance. Democratic Rep. Jay Kaufman read the verses of Bob Dylan's "The Times They are A-Changin"' into the record.

Democratic Sen. Brian A. Joyce appeared to attempt a filibuster on the first day of the debate by reading articles from The Boston Globe, while another group of lawmakers walked out of the chamber to protest the tempo of the proceedings.

Taken in total, however, political observers have given the proceedings high marks, despite the convoluted approval process, which has seen the lawmakers vote on amendments, further amendments and to send those further amendments to what's known in legislative parlance as a "third reading."

"Both opponents of gay marriage and the advocates have displayed some of their finest moments," said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts' Boston campus.

"It's clearly touched them personally and they've expressed it. It's been agonizing for many and that's been clear," he said. "It shows to some extent that this is an issue unlike any other that has appealed to people on a deep level."


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