BOSTON – Gov. Mitt Romney (search) wants the state's highest court to put gay marriages on hold now that the legislature has backed a proposed constitutional amendment to bar them. But the state's Democratic attorney general is balking at making the request.
Legislators approved a constitutional amendment Monday that would ban gay marriages (search) while legalizing civil unions. If passed a second time during the next Legislative session, the measure would go before voters in November 2006.
But under the November decision by the Supreme Judicial Court, gay marriages are scheduled to begin in Massachusetts on May 17.
Romney, a first-term Republican, has said that allowing the marriages to go forward in the interim would create massive legal confusion, for both the couples involved and the state.
"Given the conflict, I believe the Supreme Judicial Court should delay the imposition of its decision until the people have a chance to be heard," Romney said Monday.
But Attorney General Tom Reilly (search), whose represents the state in court, said he would not seek to delay the May 17 deadline on Romney's behalf. Without court action, Monday's decision will not affect the deadline.
"It was very clear to me as attorney general that the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court have made up their minds," said Reilly, considered a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2006. "Do I agree with their decision? No. Absolutely not. But that is the law of the state."
Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom said that he hopes Reilly will reconsider after reading the governor's written legal arguments, which he is expected to deliver later Tuesday.
Legal experts have said that without Reilly on his side, any effort by Romney to block gay marriages would be legally difficult -- and, in any event, unlikely to be embraced by a court that has twice declared it unconstitutional to ban gay couples from marriage.
"I think it's extremely unlikely that the court would stay a decision for 21/2 years," said attorney Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA. "That's just too long a period of time to expect people to wait for what the court has said is a fundamental right."
Gay-rights advocates felt little joy Monday in seeing a proposed amendment include civil-union rights. They'd already witnessed the state's highest court award full marriage rights only to see lawmakers try to water it down.
"I believe many of them are going to feel very ashamed of what they've just done today," said Arline Isaacson, co-leader of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus (search).
But conservatives also weren't quick to embrace the compromise amendment, calling it blackmail to force citizens to approve civil unions as part of a marriage ban.
"We are giving the people a false choice," said Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Republican. "We're saying, 'No problem, you can vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the only way you can do it is if you create civil unions that are entirely the same as marriage."'
The constitutional convention took place in front of thousands of citizens, who crowded the Statehouse each day to watch from the gallery and protest in the hallways.
After each intonation of "Jesus" by gay rights opponents inside the building Monday, gay rights advocates tacked on "loves us." The two opposing sides then shouted "Jesus Christ!" and "equal rights!" simultaneously, blending into a single, indistinguishable chant.
The debate in Massachusetts has unfolded in the national spotlight, continuing to move forward as mayors across the country permitted unsanctioned gay weddings in their cities.
"This entire debate ... has occurred in the eye of a social and cultural and even spiritual storm," said House Speaker Thomas Finneran. "Massachusetts is hesitant about what the appropriate course of action might be. The nation seems to be similarly divided."
Monday's action shifted attention to the fall elections, when lawmakers will have to defend their votes on the contentious social issue and fend off attempts to change the makeup of the Legislature.
All 200 legislative seats are up for grabs in November, and the amendment was approved Monday with only four votes to spare. It now becomes critical for opponents of gay marriage to ensure the re-election of their allies this fall.
In Kentucky, lawmakers failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages Monday, the last day that the General Assembly would ordinarily pass bills. Speaker Jody Richards said the bill might still get revived when lawmakers return in two weeks for a wrap-up session.