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Groups muster to fight gay marriage in Mass.

Conservative groups from across the state and nation, outraged by a court decision allowing gay marriages, have begun devising a legal strategy to delay the effective date of the ruling until after lawmakers and voters have acted on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a heterosexual institution.

The bid to try to block the Supreme Judicial Court's 4-3 ruling took place as an unprecedented deluge of telephone calls and e-mails denouncing the decision flooded Beacon Hill offices, apparently the orchestrated campaign of gay marriage opposition groups from coast to coast.

Ronald A. Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which has been at the forefront of the fight here against gay marriage, said his organization will work with Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian lawyers group that pledged to offer Crews its legal services.

Although they are still working out a strategy, Crews said the lawyers will probably explore submitting a motion to the Supreme Judicial Court seeking an indefinite delay, allowing the Legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. The court has given the Legislature 180 days before its ruling takes effect, but amending the constitution would take at least until 2006.

"We're trying to find, is there some way to get a motion before the SJC concerning the implementation time frame," Crews said. "Our hope is to allow the legislative process to work its course concerning the marriage amendment."

Crews said such a move may require the state attorney general's office to file the motion. A spokesman for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said he could not comment.

Also joining the fight yesterday was Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue -- and a key figure in the 2000 Vermont fight over implementing civil unions. Terry, who is based in St. Augustine, Fla., said in a telephone interview that he and his supporters have begun sending out "hundreds of thousands of e-mails to our people around the country, asking them to write, call, and fax the governor and the Legislature of Massachusetts."

In addition, Terry said, he plans on setting up a physical presence in the Bay State, just as he did in Vermont, where he hopes to spearhead protest rallies, and perhaps, he said, a mock trial of the SJC's judges. "We want an avalanche," Terry said.

Aides to Governor Mitt Romney, who has denounced the ruling as up-ending "3,000 years of recorded history," reported fielding several hundred telephone calls yesterday from across the United States mostly praising his criticism of the court's decision.

"It was 2-to-1 in opposition to the court's ruling," said Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman.

And state legislators reported receiving more than 100 virtually identical e-mails each from residents of Texas, Colorado, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and beyond, urging them to "honor the people of your state in eradicating and overturning this ridiculous and dishonorable decision made by these justices."

Other e-mails, from the Florida-based Christian Family Coaltion, went out early yesterday, soliciting financial donations for use in persuading Massachusetts lawmakers to amend the constitution and block same-sex marriages from becoming the law of the state.

"My computer makes a little sound when I receive e-mails, and my computer's been chirping like a bird," said Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, who added that he has never seen such a blizzard of calls and e-mails since arriving on Beacon Hill in 1997.

O'Flaherty, who opposes same-sex marriage but favors the creation of civil unions, said he also received many calls, and some personal visits, from constituents in his district, which includes Charlestown and parts of Chelsea.

"I would say that 90 percent of the phone calls that we have received from constituents in my district, easily, [were] overwhelmingly in opposition to the ruling," he said. "They are curious about what, if any, the legislative response will be, and there's confusion as well."

Gay rights advocates yesterday said they were not surprised by the intense display of opposition. But, they said, the volume of calls and e-mails in opposition of the ruling does not signify overwhelming opposition in reality.

"The problem is that most of the folks who think the Legislature should focus on other issues will never call their legislators because they're not zealots," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. The group's lobbyists spent much of yesterday in the halls of the State House, answering questions from lawmakers about the ruling.

Several lawmakers yesterday said they doubted the onslaught of e-mails, calls, and protests would do much to persuade legislators on the controversial issue.

"This issue didn't just pop up this week," said Senator Robert A. Havern III, an Arlington Democrat.

Representative Jay R. Kaufman, Democrat of Lexington, who supports gay marriage, said he and aides spent plenty of time yesterday simply throwing away the e-mail communications.

"I have deleted more of my in-basket today than I've gotten in the last two years," Kaufman said. "They are clearly orchestrated. This is certainly the largest out-of-state e-mail campaign I have seen in my nine years here. But one or two calls or e-mails that are from the heart, and just an honest expression of strongly held opinions carry much more weight than scores, if not hundreds, of orchestrated and manipulated e-mails."

Still, Kaufman said, he had received "many" calls from constituents, who, like those in O'Flaherty's district, oppose the ruling.

Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat, reported that a "super majority" of the calls and e-mails he received yesterday were from outside of his district, and virtually all denounced the court's ruling. But when he visited a local coffee shop prior to coming to the State House yesterday, "it was really a split feel out there."

But national conservative groups are betting the pressure they put on Beacon Hill lawmakers will get results. "It's whoever's voice is heard the loudest," said Roberta Combs, president of the 2.8 million-member Christian Coalition, a national conservative grass-roots group planning rallies and petitions against gay marriage. "That's what we're all about."

Raphael Lewis can be reached at rlewis@globe.com.

Ross Ozer and his partner, Scott Gortikov Ross Ozer (left) and his partner, Scott Gortikov, took their 18-month-old son, Sam Ozer-Gortikov, to a celebration of the court ruling at the Old South Meeting House. Gortikov proposed marriage to Ozer after hearing of the decision. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Dan Avila and Maria Parker Dan Avila and Maria Parker of the Mass. Catholic Conference denounced the ruling. (Reuters Photo)
Text of the decision
Gay population
The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households. Provincetown is the community in Mass. with the highest rate of gay partners, about 15 percent of households.
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