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Principally Politics
The marriage debate in Mass.


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Michael Graham

When Massachusetts state legislators convene this afternoon to consider a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, they will weigh the most fundamental principles of democracy itself: the consent of the governed, civil rights, the purpose of law.

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Ah, but this is Massachusetts. Which means the real debate will likely be over cushy government jobs.

Take state Representative Brian P. Wallace of south Boston. He’s a Democrat who last year voted in favor of putting the marriage amendment on the ballot for a vote of the people. He’s now reportedly on the short list for a lucrative job at the Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Commission. Now, Governor Deval Patrick and the leaders of the overwhelmingly Democratic house and senate don’t actually appoint members of boards like these, but they are certainly not without influence.

Enough influence to change a handful of votes and keep the marriage amendment from ever making it to the ballot? That’s the question that may be answered on Beacon Hill later today.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has accused Gov. Patrick and Democratic leaders like Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray are placing “unprecedented pressure” on legislators they believe can be flipped from the previous vote. “I have unequivocal corroboration that the Legislature has never seen pressure like this applied.”

How much pressure can the same-sex lobby really place on legislators, you ask? Well, the co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, Arline Isaacson, just happens to also be the longtime lobbyist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association — the state’s largest (and wealthiest) teacher’s union. Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Chairman Howard Dean have gotten into the act, telling legislators that having the same-sex-marriage question on the ballot in 2008 in Massachusetts will hurt the Democrats nationwide.

The language of the marriage amendment is simple and direct: “When recognizing marriages entered into after the adoption of this amendment by the people, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall define marriage only as the union of one man and one woman.”

This amendment was submitted with a record 170,000 signatures. The next step is for the amendment to receive at least 50 votes from the 200 members of the state house and senate in two consecutive legislatures.

In the waning hours of the 2005-2006 legislature, it received 62 votes, but several of those came from lame-duck members who have been replaced by opponents of the amendment. Both sides agree that, thanks to retirements and at least one publicly announced vote switcher, the number today is in the mid-50s, maybe lower.

The margin is so close that a statehouse stumble Wednesday that left a pro-amendment representative hospitalized could determine whether or not the people of Massachusetts get the opportunity to vote on their own state’s marriage law.

Supporters of same-sex marriage like MassEquality.org are spending $750,000 on “It’s Wrong To Vote On Rights” campaign. They argue that if the marriage amendment makes it to the ballot it would be “the first time in Massachusetts history [that] we would be allowing one group of people to vote on the civil rights of another group of people.”

Even a mediocre high-school history student knows this is nonsense. From women’s suffrage, to the Civil War-era amendments ending slavery, to the Bill of Rights itself, virtually every one of the rights Americans have went through the democratic process at some point.

Supporters of same-sex marriage understand this, so instead of debating their opposition to the workings of democracy, they prefer instead bare-knuckled politics. Last year, for example, the Boston Globe called for the legislature to simply refuse to vote on the legally submitted petition they received — a direct violation of the state constitution. When the Supreme Judiciary Court ruled unanimously that a vote was required, the Globe editorialized that legislators should ignore the court, too.

It was a moment filled with irony, given that this was the same court whose 4-3 ruling in 2003 creating the “right” to marriage was cheered by the same Boston Globe editorialists.

If it sounds odd to hear a newspaper call for abandoning the constitution and the rule of law, it sounds positively bizarre coming from an elected official. Governor Deval Patrick is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, going so far as to declare that “all adults should be free to choose whom they wish to love and to marry.” Even in Massachusetts this position — essentially marital nihilism– is extreme, creating as it does marriage rights for incestuous couples and polygamists, among others.

Still, Governor Patrick presses on. While still governor-elect, Patrick also urged the legislature to ignore the constitution and simply go home without voting. Less than a week later, he swore to obey and defend that same constitution as Massachusetts governor.

Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, a same-sex-marriage supporter, has pledged that there will be a vote today, no matter what. However, Gov. Patrick is urging the legislature to postpone a vote until the leadership is certain they can keep the number of “yes” votes below the 50-vote threshold. The legislature has repeatedly delayed previous votes and it’s very likely this could happen again.

Governor Patrick has laid out the strategy clearly. He wants the legislature to keep postponing until, through arm twisting or attrition, gay-marriage supporters get what they want: “We want a vote that goes the right way, that keeps us off the ballot,” Gov. Patrick said.

And they’ll keep dodging and delaying until they get it, too. After all, this is Massachusetts.



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