National Catholic Register

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Bay State Lawmakers Duck Marriage Vote

BY GAIL BESSE

Register Correspondent

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 10:00 AM

 

BOSTONMassachusetts lawmakers have again dodged action on a proposed constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage.

The July 12 move to delay action until after the November election by the state Legislature capped a series of delays and political maneuvers that have frustrated marriage supporters.

This setback shows that Catholics need to take the issue more seriously , said C.J. Doyle, executive director for the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

Lawmakers are “subservient to the powerful homosexual lobby,” Doyle said after the hearing. “We need greater Catholic militancy. The other side is waging a desperate struggle over a vital issue, and we are too easygoing.”

Although Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the state’s other three bishops strongly support the amendment, action at the local level has been checkered, according to parishioners surveyed.

At issue now is not only the goal of the amendment — to let voters in 2008 define marriage as the union of one man and one woman — but also lawmakers’ apparent disregard for the rule of law by repeatedly ducking the issue since 2002.

A statement from VoteOnMarriage.org, the coalition that sponsored the initiative petition amendment, labeled the delay “a clear political attempt to insulate incumbent legislators at the polls this November from recording their vote on marriage.”

The coalition had worked hard for a vote on the measure, which seeks to restore to voters a voice denied to them by a 2003 judicial ruling that imposed same-sex “marriage” on the Commonwealth.

Volunteers gathered a record 170,000 signatures on a petition to support the amendment, and the coalition successfully fought off spurious charges of signature fraud and a lawsuit over its constitutionality. In May lawmakers postponed the issue until July.

On July 10 the Supreme Judicial Court, the same court that made the 2003 decision, unanimously ruled that the amendment was constitutionally valid. Although marriage supporters applauded the outcome, they were dismayed by wording in the ruling that in essence invited a different challenge to the amendment should it be passed.

Dan Avila, policy director for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said, “Many law professors, including supporters of same-sex ‘marriage,’ are expressing shock over the judges’ premeditated power grab.”

Commenting on the lawmakers’ dodge, Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said, “The legislative leadership has made the birthplace of American democracy its new graveyard.”

By contrast, those seeking to keep the status quo welcomed the recess, which they had openly bragged about helping to engineer.

“We dodged the bullet and now we have a chance to possibly win in November,” said Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus.

Isaacson said her lobby team “had worked with the House and Senate leadership to postpone the vote on the amendment as part of a strategy to give MassEquality and its allies more time to line up the 151 votes needed to defeat the amendment,” the homosexual newspaper Bay Windows reported.

Both sides acknowledged that if the issue had come to a vote yesterday, marriage supporters would have won. If the measure clears legislative approval in two consecutive years, it can go on the ballot in the following year.

Some observers are hopeful this can still happen.

“I think reports of the death of democracy in Massachusetts have been exaggerated,” said Scott Fitzgibbon, law professor at Boston College who last year testified before the U.S. Senate on behalf of a federal marriage amendment. In an e-mail interview, he predicted that despite the delay, “the measure will get a fair hearing and a vote” in November.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference intends to keep working with VoteOnMarriage to do just that, said Executive Director Edward Saunders, who is spokesman for all four bishops on this issue. But, he stressed, people need to do more grassroots lobbying.

That will be a formidable task to counter the level of homosexual activism that resulted in the latest legislative dodge. According to Marc Solomon of MassEquality, 25 canvassers have been going door-to-door seven days a week in districts with potentially swingable legislators to defeat the amendment.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Robert Travaglini, who headed the constitutional convention, said the recess was called to give lawmakers time to deal with other “important legislation.”

“On the face of it, this move gives even sleaze a bad name; it’s despicable at several levels,” observed Hadley Arkes, political science professor at Amherst College.

In an interview, Arkes said, “The question of marriage has been part of the very matrix of the laws since there have been ‘laws.’ To treat this matter as something peripheral, something to be put aside in favor of other things, is to suggest that ‘matters of moral consequence are the matters of least consequence for us.’

“Apart from evading an issue of real consequence, what we have here is nothing less than a cynical denial of the idea of government by consent or popular government. This move seems to be folding itself into the larger pattern that we’ve seen at work over 30 years, as the political class becomes willing to shift more and more responsibility to the courts.”

“It’s so much better if those contentious issues (like abortion and same-sex ‘marriage’) can be handled by those politicians in robes who don’t have to do such straining things as run for reelection,” he said.

Arkes warned that this trend is eroding freedom of speech and representative government.

“This takes contentious issues out of the domain of public politics, in which ordinary folks can deliberate in public about the laws that will be made for them. And indeed we are hearing the argument that it is churlish to be discussing this matter or demanding a vote — indeed, that even expressing reservations or opposition may be a species of hate-speech.”

Gail Besse is based in
Hull, Massachusetts