SAME-SEX MARRIAGE (SSM) IN MASSACHUSETTS:
Initial attempts to create a constitutional amendment.
Public opinion survey
Those opposed to the legal recognition of same-sex committed couples were
faced with a problem.
||The state constitution guarantees equal treatment for all citizens.
||The state legislature has passed laws implying that marriage can
only be between one man and one woman.
||The 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.
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."
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.
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
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:
||Opposite-sex couples could get married, as now, and be granted
approximately 500 state benefits, and
||Same-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
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
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:
||There exists overwhelming support by adult Americans for equal
treatment of gays and lesbians.
||There 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
|40 to 64
|65 and over
Gender was a major factor as well:
|Gender of subject
||Supporting same-sex marriage
||Opposing same-sex marriage
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
Pete Winn, "Mass. Battles over Marriage Definition," Focus on the Family, 2002-APR-4,
Massachusetts Family Institute has a web site at:
"***Gay Marriage Poll Reports Skewed Results***,"
E-Alert, Massachusetts Family Institute, 2003-APR-10.
Frank Phillips, "Support for gay marriage: Mass. poll finds half
in favor," Boston Globe, 2003-APR-8, Page A1, at:
"FRC Preparing for 'Same-Sex Marriage' Ruling," Washington
Update report by the Family Research Council, 2003-JUL-29.
Copyright © 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-APR-6
Latest update: 2004-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson