Massachusetts lawmakers defeat bid to halt gay marriages
157-39 vote reflects growing acceptance of same-sex nuptials among
- David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Boston -- Amid a pep-rally atmosphere, Massachusetts legislators
overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to halt same-sex marriages
Wednesday -- showing how quickly gay nuptials have moved from being a
court-ordered imposition to a powerful political cause.
By a vote of 157-39, lawmakers voted down a proposed constitutional
amendment that would have eliminated the same-sex marriages legalized
two years ago and replaced them with "civil unions" for gay couples.
Instead, the vote leaves same-sex marriage as the status quo in
Massachusetts, and it now seems likely to remain so until at least
But in a broader sense the vote also illuminated how widely
Massachusetts had diverged from much of the nation, where several
dozen states have passed laws limiting marriage to heterosexual
couples. California's Legislature has passed a bill legalizing gay
marriage, which is now sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk;
he has said he will veto it.
Politicians here credit the weddings themselves with shifting the
political momentum, saying their growing ordinariness had served to
defuse some of the opposition.
"The difference is that we have marriage," said state Sen. Jarrett
Barrios, a Democrat, after the vote, while other supporters screamed
and cheered nearby in a rally under a mural of the Boston Tea Party.
"We've got a world that hasn't changed."
The issue of same-sex marriage had been on the front-burner since
November 2003, when the state's Supreme Court ruled in favor of seven
same-sex couples who had pressed for the right to wed.
The court found that "the right to marry means little if it does not
include the right to marry the person of one's choice" -- making
Massachusetts the first state to offer gays more than civil unions.
Weeks of emotional debate followed, as some state legislators sought
to nullify the court's ruling. Finally, plans were made to amend the
state constitution to permit civil unions but ban marriage. But such
amendments require votes in two successive sessions of the state
The proposal passed in March 2004 but still required another vote,
which was the measure turned down Wednesday.
In the meantime, the weddings began. Since the first, on May 17, 2004,
more than 6,100 gay couples have wed -- about 17 percent of all the
state's weddings during that period.
Each one made the idea of gay marriage more acceptable, observers say.
The differences were noticed by politicians -- who say they started
getting more letters in favor of the marriages.
"It's one of those areas of politics where people have become
accustomed to something that was once radical," said Julian Zelizer, a
history professor at Boston University. "It's just normative at this
By the time Wednesday rolled around, support had collapsed for the
civil unions measure. Supporters of same-sex marriage were feeling too
confident to compromise, and opponents of gay marriage had united
behind another amendment that would eliminate gay unions of any kind.
Lawmakers already are preparing for a battle over another proposed
amendment that would ban both gay marriage and civil unions. The
earliest that initiative could end up on the ballot is 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Page A - 5