Mass. governor backs plan that would end gay unions

Proposal to amend state constitution could make Nov. 2008 ballot

June 17, 2005|By Elizabeth Mehren | Elizabeth Mehren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOSTON - Gov. Mitt Romney voiced support for a ballot initiative proposed yesterday that would end same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the only state where such unions are legal.

"My view is that marriage should be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said, expressing a position he has advocated consistently.

The proposal to amend the state constitution, announced yesterday by the Coalition for Marriage and Family, would restrict marriage to a union between a man and a woman, and would bar Vermont-style civil unions.

Coalition president Kris Mineau said in an interview that his organization hoped to overturn a 2003 decision by the state's highest court that permitted gays and lesbians to wed starting in May of last year.

After Romney invoked an obscure amendment from 1913, same-sex marriage licenses were restricted to Massachusetts residents only. In the first year that such unions were legal, more than 6,000 gay and lesbian couples were married here.

Mineau said his organization had begun the process that could put the measure on the November 2008 ballot. Before the bill could reach voters, the state attorney general must approve the proposal's language.

Supporters of the amendment must also obtain 65,825 certified signatures. The signatures can only be gathered between Sept. 21 and Nov. 23 of this year.

Finally, one-quarter of the state's legislators must vote to approve the amendment before it could reach voters.

After protracted debate, the state legislature last year approved an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage but permit civil unions.

To become law, the bill must win a second vote of approval in the current legislative session. If approved by lawmakers, that amendment would go to state voters in the November 2006, election.

If the measure before the legislature were to become law, Mineau said, his group's proposed amendment would not be subject to action.

But Mineau said that scenario was unlikely because "we have pulled our support for that amendment. We are certain the votes are not there to pass it."

He called the amendment endorsed in the legislature's first-round vote "flawed, ambiguous and marked for defeat."

Romney made his remarks yesterday about the proposed amendment at a news conference at the Massachusetts statehouse.

He described the legislature's bill banning same-sex marriage as "muddied," because of the civil union provision. He also took the opportunity to blast the state's highest court, which approved same-sex marriage in a landmark 4-3 decision.

"Something so fundamental as marriage should be decided by the citizens and not by the court and a one-justice majority," Romney said.

Today, Romney is expected to address 1,000 Republican supporters at the Republican Party of Orange County's Flag Day dinner in Irvine, Calif. The event is expected to be the governor's largest out-of-state gathering since he began exploring a 2008 presidential run.

Romney opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions when he ran for office here in 2002. He since has carefully distanced himself from the Supreme Judicial Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Julie Teer, his press secretary, said yesterday that Romney's comments about same-sex marriage had "absolutely nothing to do" with his national aspirations.

But Mineau said Romney's support of his group's more restrictive amendment was critical.

"It gives us good visibility," he said.

But Marty Rouse, campaign director for MassEquality - a statewide group supporting marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples - charged yesterday that Romney was using the new measure opposing same-sex unions to further his presidential ambitions.

"We think Gov. Romney is burnishing his right-wing credentials, and using gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts to help him with his possible run for president," Rouse said.

"Marriage equality in Massachusetts is accepted and supported across the state, and it is unfortunate that a few radical opponents refuse to move on," he said.

Yesterday's proposal to end same-sex marriage in the state was supported by Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley and the bishops of the state's three other Roman Catholic dioceses.

"We encourage all Catholics to exercise their civil right to participate in the signature drive for the new petition," they said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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