Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Massachusetts heading for another same-sex-marriage showdown

Two years after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, the battle rages on. On Tuesday, gay-rights activists filed a lawsuit seeking to disqualify a ballot measure that would ask voters to ban same-sex marriage by amending the state's constitution. The suit, filed by the group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in the state's Supreme Judicial Court, challenges a September ruling by state Attorney General Tom Reilly, who found the amendment drive was legal. Reilly's ruling allowed the backers of the amendment to begin collecting the 65,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the 2008 ballot. They've gathered more than 124,000 so far, breaking a record for the most signatures ever gathered in the state for a ballot campaign."The attorney general simply got it wrong," GLAD legal director Gary Buseck said in a statement Tuesday. "Our state constitution says there can be no citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that 'relates to the reversal of a judicial decision.' This proposed anti-gay, anti-marriage amendment is meant squarely and solely to reverse the decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that ended marriage discrimination in Massachusetts." The state's Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts in November 2003.GLAD's lawsuit, which is expected to be heard in the spring, asserts that the state constitution empowers only the legislature to seek to amend the constitution in response to a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court."We've seen in Massachusetts that marriage equality is good for families and communities," said lead plaintiff Johanna Schulman, president of GLAD's board of directors. "After 19 years I was finally able to marry the person I love and give our daughter the security and stability she deserves. This anti-marriage ballot question is clearly unconstitutional, but more importantly its passage would do a disservice to all of the people of Massachusetts — including those who have yet to meet the love of their life."The ballot question has to get the backing of at least 50 lawmakers in two successive legislative sessions before appearing on the November 2008 ballot. It would define marriage as a union of one man and one woman but would not nullify the thousands of same-sex marriages that have taken place since May 17, 2004. It would, however, stop any future same-sex marriages from taking place.A spokesperson for Reilly said GLAD's legal argument is flawed because the proposed amendment would not overturn the SJC's ruling or invalidate the marriages that have already taken place, but would change the constitution so that no more marriages could be performed if the measure passed."While the attorney general does not personally support the proposal, we are confident that letting this question proceed was the right decision," said David Guarino, communications director for the attorney general. "The attorney general's decision to certify this question for the ballot was based solely on the constitution. This proposal isn't a reversal of a judicial decision but an effort to change the constitution going forward."Reilly certified the ballot measure in September, saying he was personally opposed to it but did not see a legal reason to block it.The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which spearheaded the ballot measure, said it was intentionally worded to withstand the kind of legal challenge being mounted by GLAD. "There's nothing devious about this," Kris Mineau said. "We wouldn't take this level of effort for something that wouldn't be legally sound. We went through a year of research and studying the Massachusetts constitution and the restrictions on citizen initiatives to make sure the language met the requirements. We believe it is constitutionally sound, and the attorney general, who doesn't agree with us, does also."


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