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!!!!!!!! Search error!  If the URL ends something like .htm/  or .htm# delete the character(s) after .htm and hit return.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE (SSM) IN MASSACHUSETTS:

Initial attempts to create a constitutional amendment.
Public opinion survey

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The problem:

Those opposed to the legal recognition of same-sex committed couples were faced with a problem.

bulletThe state constitution guarantees equal treatment for all citizens.
bulletThe state legislature has passed laws implying that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
bulletThe Supreme Judicial Court -- the highest court in Massachusetts -- is given the responsibility of resolving conflicts of this nature. If they were to decide that the constitution's guarantee of equal treatment overruled the state laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, then same-sex marriage would become a reality.

Since this was a purely Massachusetts case, the Supreme Judicial Court's decision could not be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The only way to prevent the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would be to modify the state constitution to identify a specific group (i.e. same-sex committed couples) and deny them equal treatment under law. This use of the Massachusetts state constitution to actively discriminate against a group of its citizens would be unprecedented. Nothing like it has ever happened before in the state.

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2001: Protection of Marriage Amendment (POMA):

According to the Fundamentalist Christian organization, Focus on the Family, 100,000 signatures were collected on a petition to add what was called a "Protection of Marriage Amendment" (POMA) to the state constitution. 1 If it became part of the constitution, this amendment would over-rule the Supreme Judicial Court -- Massachusetts' supreme court -- and prohibit same-sex marriages. It would entrench in the state constitution the principle that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. The Massachusetts Family Institute claims that a smaller number were collected: 76,067 signatures. The difference is of little consequence, because only 57,000 are needed to force the proposal to be considered by the legislature.  The Massachusetts legislature would first have had to agree to call a state constitutional convention to place the amendment on the ballot. Then, lawmakers would have to pass the measure again during their following session. The earliest that the citizens would be able to vote on the Amendment would have been the year 2004.

According to press reports, the president of the Massachusetts Senate, Tom Birmingham, had the responsibity to make the decision whether to call for the constitutional convention. The call had to be made by 2002-MAY-8, or the petition would be null and void. "On April 10 at 10AM in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House, the Joint Public Service Committee...[heard] testimony on H4840 entitled, 'An Initiative Amendment to the Constitution Relative to the Protection of Marriage.' The bill represented the next step in the process of amending the state Constitution to add a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman." 2

The Legislature voted to adjourn without voting on the proposed amendment. Acting Governor Jane Swift and Senate President Thomas Birmingham asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to decide whether the Legislature's action was constitutional. 2

This essay continues below.

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2003: Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment (MA & PA):

The Massachusetts Family Institute drafted a proposed amendment to the state constitution which is intended to permanently outlaw same-sex marriages, even if the Supreme Judicial Court were to decide in favor of the plaintiffs in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health. Representative Phillip Travis (D, Rehobath) introduced the amendment into the house. Speaker of the House, Thomas M. Finneran, said: "I have voted and would continue to vote to restrict marriage to one man and one woman. The traditional definition and understanding of marriage is the definition that I am most comfortable with.

The proposed amendment reads:

"It being the public policy of this Commonwealth to protect the unique relationship of marriage in order to promote among other goals, the stability and welfare of society and the best interests of children, only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Massachusetts.  Any other relationship shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent."

On the surface, if this amendment were approved, it would seem to eliminate the possibility of gays and lesbians ever being allowed to marry or enter into a civil union. However, the amendment would not appear to prohibit the legislature from setting up a parallel civil union family structure so that:

bulletOpposite-sex couples could get married, as now, and be granted approximately 500 state benefits, and
bulletSame-sex couples could become "civil-unionized" and be granted, say, one fewer benefit than is given to married couples.

Such an arrangement would avoid having civil unions fully equivalent to marriage, and thus might be considered constitutional within the wording of the amended state constitution. Further, it might be possible for the Supreme Judicial Court to instruct the legislature to create such a parallel system, as the corresponding court did in Vermont.

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2003-MAR: Public opinion survey:

The Massachusetts Family Institute, a fundamentalist Christian group, reported the results of a new poll from the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV, which was released early in April. It showed that 50% of Massachusetts residents support gay marriage whereas 44% oppose it. 3

The Boston Globe reported: "In the survey, 50 percent supported legalizing gay and lesbian marriages, while 44 percent said they oppose it. Those figures are in sharp contrast to national polls in recent years. A Kaiser Family Foundation [national] survey in 2000 found that 55 percent of Americans questioned opposed gay marriage, while 39 percent supported it. A Pew Center poll in 2001 showed only 35 percent of people favor same-sex marriage." 4 The Globe/WBZ poll, taken early in 2003-APR by KRC Communications Research, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

One of the serious deficiencies of some polls on this topic is that they only ask their subjects one question: whether they support or oppose gay marriage. They generally do not ask a companion question: whether the subjects support or oppose civil unions -- the registration of committed gay and lesbian partnerships which would give them the same state benefits, responsibilities and obligations as marriage. Positive response to this question would probably be much higher. That is because:

bulletThere exists overwhelming support by adult Americans for equal treatment of gays and lesbians.
bulletThere is a strong desire among many heterosexual Americans to keep the institution of marriage exclusively restricted to opposite-gender couples.

The Globe/WBZ poll did ask this second question, and "found stronger support among Massachusetts residents for civil unions than for gay marriage....The poll found 58 percent backing the idea, while 35 percent oppose it. In the nationwide Kaiser poll, those surveyed supported civil unions, 47 to 42 percent." 4

As expected, age played a remarkably important role in the subjects' responses to the poll, Young people in the state are far more likely to support marriage for gays and lesbians than are the elderly:

Age of subject Supporting same-sex marriage Opposing same-sex marriage
18 to 39 62 33
40 to 64 53 42
65 and over 21 69

Gender was a major factor as well:

Gender of subject Supporting same-sex marriage Opposing same-sex marriage
Female 55 38
Male 45 50

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2003-JUL-29: Conservative Christians draw up contingency plans:

A coalition of the Family Research Council, the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference met "to prepare a multi-pronged reaction to the court's ruling, which will include work with the state legislature, the media, and with our grassroots supporters." They stated that "We will never give up the fight to preserve the sanctity of marriage, and with the media so focused on the 'gay marriage' issue, we have a great opportunity to influence the hearts and minds of this nation." 5 

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References:

  1. Pete Winn, "Mass. Battles over Marriage Definition," Focus on the Family, 2002-APR-4, at: http://www.family.org/
  2. Massachusetts Family Institute has a web site at: http://www.mafamily.org/
  3. "***Gay Marriage Poll Reports Skewed Results***," E-Alert, Massachusetts Family Institute, 2003-APR-10.
  4. Frank Phillips, "Support for gay marriage: Mass. poll finds half in favor," Boston Globe, 2003-APR-8, Page A1, at:  http://www.boston.com/
  5. "FRC Preparing for 'Same-Sex Marriage' Ruling," Washington Update report by the Family Research Council, 2003-JUL-29.

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Site navigation:

Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Massachusetts > here

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Copyright © 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-APR-6
Latest update: 2004-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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