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Leaders oppose bid to ban gay marriage

165 prominent names ask state to drop issue

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / July 6, 2006
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Taking on Governor Mitt Romney and the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 165 prominent business and civic leaders are publicly calling for the Legislature to reject a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The group, which includes leading bankers, healthcare executives, lawyers, and leaders of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, has purchased an ad in The Boston Globe that says the amendment would ``take away rights." It urges lawmakers to ``move on to other important issues like strengthening the economy, improving our schools, and protecting our neighborhoods."

The signers include Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his wife, Myra; real estate developer Robert Beal; Mayor Thomas M. Menino; chamber president Paul Guzzi, and more than 20 members of the chamber's board of directors; architect Graham Gund; author Robert B. Parker; venture capitalist Richard M. Burnes Jr.; Boston Foundation president Paul S. Grogan; and Stacey Lucchino, who is married to Red Sox chief executive Larry Lucchino.

The ad, which is being paid for by the advocacy group MassEquality, will run on Monday, two days before a scheduled vote on Beacon Hill. State lawmakers are to meet Wednesday to consider the proposed amendment, which is backed by a coalition led by the Massachusetts Family Institute , an opponent of same-sex marriage . The amendment needs the support of 50 lawmakers during the current and next legislative sessions to reach the November 2008 ballot.

Chad Gifford, former chairman of Bank of America, who is one of the ad's signers, said that if the marriage amendment goes to the ballot, the state's political leadership would be consumed by a divisive debate that will divert lawmakers' attention from more important issues, such as education, the economy, and the environment.

``This could become obsessive and harmful to the Commonwealth," Gifford said. ``I don't think it is good for the state to be involved in a two-year contentious debate, with a lot of national attention."

Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the ad reflects concern among the business community that an emotionally charged debate would hurt the state's business climate. She said that concern will resonate on Beacon Hill.

``They are contributing a unique aspect," Isaacson said. ``These people whose expertise are the business and the economy are harping on the topic that banning same-sex marriage is bad for business, bad for job growth, and bad for the economy. That is a very powerful message for legislators from the biggest business leaders in the state."

She said that business people and civic leaders spoke individually during the debates over same-sex marriage in 2003 and 2004, but the ad represents a broader coalition that had not previously spoken in unison on the subject.

A spokesman for Romney said the governor would have no comment on the group's ad.

But Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, strongly rejected the argument that the state's businesses are hurt by the effort to repeal same-sex marriage.

``Polls show that Massachusetts has the most negative image of the 50 states, and the capstone of why people around the country feel that way is the legalization of same-sex marriage," Mineau said.

The state's four Catholic bishops issued a statement, dated Friday, saying that the push for same-sex marriage stems from ``an exaggerated sense of entitlement."

The bishops said the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage ``is not extreme, bigoted, or religiously sectarian" but ``reflects the deeply rooted consensus in our society about what marriage is."

``In our society, every person has the civil right to marry, but no person should have the right to tailor the institution of marriage to his or her personal wants," the bishops' statement said. ``An exaggerated sense of entitlement is eroding the right of society to have a strong institution of marriage."

Supporters of gay marriage have vowed to do whatever it takes, including using parliamentary tactics to prevent a vote, to end the challenge to the 2003 Supreme Judicial Court decision that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Forces that support that ruling are hoping the ad boosts the effort to kill the proposed ban before it reaches the voters.

Last week, Romney and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley called on the lawmakers to allow a vote, expressing concern that opponents of the amendment would prevent it from coming before the House and Senate when those lawmakers, 200 in all, meet as a constitutional convention, a move that would kill the initiative petition.

To reach the 2008 ballot, the amendment needs the support of at least 50 legislators at the Constitutional Convention and then at least 50 votes at another Constitutional Convention during the 2007-2008 legislative session.

Both sides have said the amendment has 50 votes. If so, supporters of same-sex marriage could try other tactics to block the amendment. A lawmaker could, for example, push to adjourn the convention before the measure comes up for debate. Opponents of the amendment could also try to persuade lawmakers to stay away, so that the convention would not have a quorum.

Yesterday, Mineau expressed confidence that opponents of same-sex marriage have solid support from at least 50 lawmakers and that the only issue is whether a vote on the amendment will take place.

``Our amendment is the people's amendment," Mineau said, adding that the petition for the proposal before the convention was signed by a record 170,000 voters.

``This is not a special-interest amendment. . . . It's about democracy and letting the people [have] the right to vote."

The ad signed by the business and civic leaders does not address whether the proposal should be voted on, but rather focuses on trying to persuade legislators to block any efforts to add what they contend is a discriminatory amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution.

``I believe we should not write discrimination into the Constitution, and I oppose efforts to amend the Constitution that would take away rights, including the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry," the ad says.

``I urge the Legislature to reject the proposed constitutional amendment and, instead, move on to other important issues."