Reilly Certifies Gay Marriage Ballot Initiative
Conservatives Can Gather Signatures, Lobby Lawmakers
POSTED: 2:20 pm EDT September 7, 2005
UPDATED: 3:17 pm EDT September 7, 2005
BOSTON -- A proposed citizen initiative that would ban gay marriage passed a key hurdle Wednesday when Attorney General Tom Reilly ruled the ballot question is permitted under the state constitution.
The action by Reilly, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2006, clears the way for the Massachusetts Family Institute to go out and begin gathering the signatures of at least 65,825 Massachusetts voters.
If that effort is successful, the question then must by approved by two successive sittings of the 200-member state Legislature. The question would then be placed before voters as a constitutional amendment in November 2008.
Opponents of gay marriage, including Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, have said they prefer the ballot initiative route to a separate proposed constitutional amendment making its way through the Legislature. That measure would ban same-sex marriage while simultaneously legalizing Vermont-style civil unions.
The citizen initiative also only needs to be twice approved by 25 percent of lawmakers, while the Legislature's proposed amendment needs two successive majority votes.
Lawmakers are scheduled to take the second vote next Wednesday on their proposal to amend the constitution. It received initial approval from the Legislature last year.
The soonest that proposed amendment can go to a statewide ballot is November 2006, but it's unclear whether the measure will have enough votes to pass again next week. Some who initially voted for the amendment now say they have dropped their support, in part because of the possibility of voters weighing in on the Family Institute petition.
Romney also withdrew his support for the compromise ban and backed the ballot initiative proposal. He said the compromise "muddied" the issue by legalizing civil unions.
In a letter last week, Romney urged Reilly to certify the question, saying voters "should not be denied meaningful participation in the legal definition of marriage."
During a news conference Wednesday, Reilly emphasized that his decision to allow the petition was a legal decision, not a personal political move.
"I don't agree with this amendment," he said. "I don't support this amendment."
The state's highest court ruled in 2003 that it was unconstitutional for the state deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. The following spring, the nation's first state-sanctioned same-sex marriages began taking place in Massachusetts and thousands of gay couples have since tied the knot.
In August, the Family Institute filed the proposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn's name was atop the list of 30 people who signed the petition.
Wednesday was a deadline for the attorney general to certify citizen ballot initiatives. Reilly was under pressure by advocates of gay marriage to reject the ballot initiative as unconstitutional.
At issue is a clause in the Massachusetts Constitution's Article 48, which "permits the people to petition for a constitutional amendment that overrules a court decision when the court has declared a statute to be in violation of our constitution."
Backers of the initiative say that makes it clear voters have the authority to overrule a court decision, while gay marriage advocates point out that the court case that led to gay marriage rights did not overturn an existing law.
In a letter to gay marriage advocates, Peter Sacks, Reilly's deputy chief, explained that the petition was allowed to proceed because the writers of the section of the constitution governing ballot initiatives "clearly meant to allow initiative petitions to amend the words of the constitution in response to a court decision finding a law unconstitutional."
The proposed marriage amendment does not involve the "reversal of a judicial decision," Sacks wrote
I don't have any reasearch done on the Mass. Family Institute, but I'm working on it.... MA residents, PAY ATTENTION.