Backlash Vanquished in Massachusetts

Pro-marriage forces in state Legislative pick up seats in advance on amendment’s second round

The right of same-sex couples in Massachusetts to marry got a big boost from state legislative elections there on Tuesday. No supporter of same-sex marriage was defeated, despite efforts by the Catholic Church and the Republican Party to knock them off, and there was a net pick up of two for the pro-gay side among those seeking eight open seats.

The state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage while mandating civil unions was passed by five votes in a joint session of the Legislature in Constitutional Convention in March. That amendment must be passed in another convention next year before it can go before the voters in 2006. Tuesday’s results give those who want to preserve the state high court decision opening marriage to gay couples hope that the amendment will be defeated.

“We are psyched,” said Marty Rouse of Mass Equality after the election results came in, “but we still have a lot of work to do.” He said there is a chance the constitutional amendment can be beat back, “but it is not a done deal.”

Rouse noted that while the margin for the amendment was five votes, 12 votes against the amendment were from legislators opposed to both same-sex marriage and civil unions. “We really need 16 more votes,” he said, “and we are still 14 short.”

Out gay State Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios of Cambridge was even more optimistic.

“The biggest victory was that there was no backlash,” he said. “Thirty to 40 of those voting for the constitutional amendment were concerned about the outcry if they did not.”

Barrios said that now that these legislators have seen their colleagues who voted against the amendment survive an election, the prospects are good for peeling some of them off in the next vote on it. He also cited recent polls showing that the people of the state are now embracing same-sex marriages since they began last spring.

The Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus endorsed and supported candidates in 71 races, re-electing 50 incumbents who opposed the amendment, preserving four open seats where the outgoing legislator had voted with them, and picking up three of the five open seats where the prior incumbent had voted for it. Co-chairs Arline Isaacson and Gary Daffin issued a statement saying, “We made some progress with the elections, but now we face weeks and months of difficult lobbying to ensure the legislature does not pass the amendment in the coming session.”

Sen. Marian Walsh from conservative and Catholic West Roxbury was targeted for defeat by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference for her vote against the amendment—despite her standing with the church on the death penalty and abortion. Her opponents even conducted a whispering campaign about her sexuality.

“It was ugly and sad,” Walsh told the Boston Globe, but she easily defeated an opponent who ran on a platform defending “traditional marriage.” “I don’t apologize for voting my conscience,” she said.

Particularly sweet was the victory of openly gay Carl Sciortino who knocked off the anti-gay veteran Vincent Ciampa in a primary and then beat back a write-in campaign by the defeated incumbent.

The election results were a huge loss for anti-gay Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who wants to run for president, and his party that poured $3 million into the campaign to cut the Democratic advantage in the state House and Senate. They lost one of their seven seats in the Senate and two of the 22 in the House, meaning that just 27 Republicans will be represented in the 200 member Constitutional Convention, made up of legislators from both houses, in 2005.

Rouse, who is a veteran of the legislative wars over civil unions in Vermont, was also pumped about the advances in the Green Mountain state on Tuesday. In 2000, 17 legislators who supported civil unions for gay couples lost their seats and Republicans gained control of the House. “We won a few back in 2002,” he said, “but last night the Democrats picked up 16 seats in the House and two in the Senate.” The House now has a big Democratic majority once again. The backlash has been reversed.

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