Editorial: Don't let legislators bail out on marriage amendment
Monday, May 23, 2005
[This article was published as an editorial in the Salem News. To read my response also published in the Salem News click here. – Bob]
A year has passed since an order of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court permitted the first gay marriages in the nation to take place in our state.
And it's been just a little longer than that since the Legislature began a process that would allow voters to have a say in so momentous a change in public policy.
But now some legislators are backing away from the next step needed for a 2006 statewide vote on the legality of same-sex marriages. It's time for all citizens to demand their legislators stand up to the lobbying and the rhetoric and place this decision where it belongs — in the hands of the people.
The SJC ruled in 2003 that it was unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriages. The ruling took effect in May 2004 and more than 6,000 marriage licenses for same-sex couples have been issued since.
In March 2004, legislators began the process that would allow voters to amend the state constitution making gay marriage illegal while permitting civil unions among same-sex couples. Civil unions offer couples most of the legal protections that marriage does.
The amendment requires approval by the Legislature at constitutional conventions over two consecutive sessions. The Legislature approved the amendment last year. The next convention is slated for this fall. The earliest the measure could appear before voters is November 2006.
But some legislators who backed the amendment last year say they're reconsidering their support this year. Among these are state Sens. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, and Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester. Baddour cites the number of licenses already issued to same-sex couples, including more than 450 in Essex County.
“When I saw the numbers, it was eye-opening,” Baddour said. “This issue is something I've always struggled with.”
It's fine that Baddour and others questioning their previous votes on the amendment are having personal moral struggles with the question of same-sex marriage. That's all the more reason for them to put the question in the hands of voters.
Tarr said he's keeping an open mind on the matter but is concerned about possible discrimination in the amendment.
“It's a matter of which question is properly before the voters,” he said.
The essence of democracy is having faith that the people know best how to order their lives. Yet the courts, and now, it appears, the Legislature, are unwilling to allow the people a say on the preservation of thousands of years of human tradition - tradition and legal precedent that say marriage exists only between a man and a woman.
Many opponents of same-sex marriage feared this would be the case all along: that the legislators would make a brave stand for voters at the first constitutional convention, then, after gay marriage had established a track record, they would slink away into the night.
It's up to us, the people of Massachusetts, to keep the pressure on legislators, to demand they live up to their duty to place this society-altering question before the voters.
In the last general election, voters in 13 states approved amendments to their constitutions defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Massachusetts voters deserve the same opportunity.
Reprinted courtesy of The Salem News
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