Island legislators oppose putting marriage amendment to vote
A proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts is one step closer to being put to a statewide vote next year. Sixty-two legislators voted Tuesday to move the petition forward, 12 more than required. Senator Robert O'Leary and Representative Eric Turkington, who represent the Island, both voted to defeat the petition.
The legislature waited until the final day of the 2005-2006 legislative session to vote on the proposed amendment. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued an opinion last week stating that the legislators have a constitutional duty to vote on citizen-initiated petitions.
"The members of the joint session have a constitutional duty to vote...on the merits of all pending initiative amendments," said the SJC. The ruling was issued after outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney and 10 other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit charging that legislators undermined the state constitution by recessing the Nov. 9 constitutional convention without voting on a gay marriage ballot initiative.
The SJC went on to say, "We have no statutory authority to issue a declaratory judgment concerning the constitutionality of legislative action, or inaction, in this matter."
Mr. O'Leary urged lawmakers to take a vote on the issue, and then cast his vote against the petition.
"We're not in that role just simply to pass forward an initiated petition," Mr. O'Leary said yesterday in a telephone conversation. "We're clearly there in the process as well, as much as the voters are. It's really a shared responsibility."
Fifty or more legislators need to vote in favor of the petition during two consecutive constitutional conventions, in order for it to make the 2008 ballot. "We're obligated under the state constitution to cast a vote based on our...principles and on what we believe represents the interest of our constituents," Mr. O'Leary said.
Mr. Turkington, who voted to adjourn early on Nov. 9 without taking a vote, said the legislative process gives lawmakers the authority to decide what is presented to voters.
"The referendum process doesn't say anybody's idea gets to go to the voters," Mr. Turkington said. "It presumes that the legislators get to vote on it. And we did. And I voted against it."
Both legislators said they would vote against the petition again during the next constitutional convention.