Governor Mitt Romney was following the constitutional convention debate on television in his office, within shouting distance of the House chamber, when House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran came to the microphone for his opening remarks.
Finneran, in a surprise gambit, introduced an amendment that would ban gay marriage but allow the Legislature to authorize civil unions at a later date, if lawmakers so chose.
Romney, who opposes both gay marriages and civil unions, liked what Finneran was up to. He quickly fired off a handwritten note to the Democratic House speaker, his frequent political rival, congratulating him for the speech, even as lawmakers complained bitterly that they had been duped by Finneran.
Then Romney walked down the hall to meet with the top Republican in the House, Bradley H. Jones Jr., to urge that all Republican lawmakers support the amendment. Darrell Crate, Romney's handpicked choice as chairman of the state Republican Party, reminded at least one GOP lawmaker that the White House probably didn't want civil unions or gay marriage to be established in Massachusetts, according to Republican sources.
The Finneran-Romney team fell just short, with the amendment failing 100-98. But the governor stayed integrally involved in the proceedings throughout the day, meeting constantly with Republican lawmakers and strategizing privately with aides. A stack of pizzas was delivered to Romney's offices last night.
The governor has no formal role in the constitutional convention, and this sort of involvement in legislative matters can be tricky territory. Romney's moves appear to have offended Senate Republican leader Brian P. Lees, one of his closest legislative allies. Lees was working on a competing proposal to the one Finneran was pushing, and he didn't deliver the votes Romney requested. At one point, Beth Myers, Romney's chief of staff, tried to stop Lees on his way into the House chamber, but Lees stuck out his arm and walked past without a word. Lees, of East Longmeadow, declined to comment on his relationship with Romney.
After last night's debate ended, Romney told reporters that he and representatives of his office have shared their views with lawmakers "who I think I can have influence with."
"I have indicated to them I think they should follow their own conscience on these issues," Romney said. "But I have indicated to them what my personal views are, and for those that have interest, I'm happy to chat with them."
Also yesterday, Romney hinted that he would join Finneran in trying to block the issuance of gay marriage licenses until November 2006, when citizens may have a chance to vote on a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Under the high court decision, gay couples will be allowed to marry in mid-May, more than two years before any constitutional ban.
Before the constitutional convention, Romney said he, like Finneran, was concerned about the legal chaos that would ensue if gay couples were allowed to marry during the interim.
"I would look to minimize disruption and confusion in the Commonwealth," said Romney. "I would look for ways to preserve a continuous application of the law rather than a disruptive process."
He did not say specifically what actions he would take. Legal specialists have called any effort to block the issuance of marriage licenses a blatant violation of the Supreme Judicial Court decision, which was reaffirmed by the court last week.
Yvonne Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.