With energetic demonstrators chanting in the street, state lawmakers yesterday delayed a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage until after the November election.
The joint legislative session voted, 100 to 91, to recess until Nov. 9, two days after Election Day. Legislators also defeated in a separate vote a move to reconvene next week.
Gay-marriage advocates said they had pushed for a postponement so they could persuade more legislators to vote against the proposed amendment and prevent it from reaching the ballot in 2008. But supporters of the ban were furious that the vote was put off.
``Profiles in courage," snapped Representative Philip Travis, Democrat of Rehoboth, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. ``They leave the building and don't take up the amendment until two days after they are reelected. Those who took a walk will be scrutinized. Everyone will want to know why they wanted to walk out."
The proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage represents the latest high-profile effort to overturn the 2003 decision by the Supreme Judicial Court legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Backers of the amendment say they have collected more than 170,000 signatures from registered voters to place the measure on the ballot in 2008. To get a spot on the ballot, the measure needs the backing of 50 legislators in two successive legislative sessions.
The amendment declares that the state ``shall define marriage only as the union of one man and one woman."
Yesterday the lawmakers spent 4 1/2 hours working their way through half of the 21-item agenda for the joint session known as a Constitutional Convention. The proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage was 20th on the agenda.
``The only people who want to deal with this right now are the people who want to put this on the ballot," said Representative Byron Rushing, Democrat of the South End and a same-sex marriage supporter. ``I'm waiting for the time when my side has the most votes. We did nothing that was against the rules. We did no funny business."
A spokeswoman for Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, who presided over the joint session, said lawmakers recessed because by early evening they still had too many major items left on the agenda.
``After [4 1/2] hours of debate, a majority of lawmakers determined that we would not be able to get through the full calendar today," said Travaglini's spokeswoman, Ann Dufresne. ``And with only two weeks left in the legislative session, they are anxious to resume their work finalizing the budget, taking up overrides, and acting on important legislation and other initiatives."
Activists on both sides said they will use the next several months to try to sway legislators.
``Every week we're getting more votes," said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus and a leading opponent of the amendment. ``This is evolution, not revolution. The more they see it, they more they know it doesn't cause a lot of tumult among their constituents. It's not a hot topic in their districts. People care about education, healthcare, and the economy."
``But we have our work cut out for us, a lot of work," she said. ``We are nowhere near where we need to win."
Edward F. Saunders Jr. , executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said he expects that the measure -- as well as all the other items on the Constitutional Convention agenda -- will come to a vote this year, as Travaglini promised earlier this week.
``We look forward to Nov. 9," said Saunders. ``The people need to turn their attention to their reps and senators to make sure the vote gets taken in November. It was a lengthy agenda, and they got through half of the items. I was encouraged by the Senate president's statement that there will be a vote. We have to wait for that opportunity."
Governor Mitt Romney, who is eyeing a run for president in 2008, criticized the maneuver.
``Tens of thousands of citizens have petitioned the government for the right to have their voices heard. They have played by the rules. This issue won't go away until the people are heard," Romney said.
Spectators who had packed the House gallery expecting a vote looked dejected as they left the Great Hall.
``Don't give up," they uttered to one another.
``It's wearing people out," said Larry Cirignano , executive director of CatholicVote.org , an advocacy group. ``People came in May and now July and made hundreds of thousands of phone calls. Instead, the representatives just postponed yet again. It's cowardice not to stand up and tell people where you stand on these issues."
Lori Hill, 24, of Newton, an opponent of the ban , said she had hoped a vote would have been taken yesterday. ``I've been going door to door, and I'll keep doing that until they finally vote. We'll keep fighting for another four months," she said, her voice hoarse from cheering outside all day.
Demonstrators from across the state and the political spectrum had lined up outside the building, along Beacon Street. Opponents of the ban hoisted signs that read ``No Discrimination in the Constitution," while supporters held signs saying: ``Let the People Vote!"
As the Constitutional Convention got underway yesterday afternoon, it began to rain. But the advocates outside the State House were undeterred, donning clear ponchos and holding umbrellas as they continued their chants. Some of the painted signs began to smear. Others that had become rain soaked were tossed into a small pile beside the State House stairs.
``I just think equal rights are important to everybody," said Darrel Hopkins, 61, of Westminster, a gay man who served in the military for 20 years. ``I was one of the troops who went into Alabama to fight for integration, and I've been fighting for equal rights ever since."
Sister Agnes Marie, 31, of Bellingham, who was wearing her habit and holding rosary beads, offered her support for the amendment .
``We're all made by God. He wants them to be healed of all their wounds," she said of the same-sex marriage advocates across the street. ``A lot of them are angry. When we go against moral law, we're not truly happy.
``From the beginning, God ordained that it should be a man and a woman," she said. ``It's not a matter of choice. We have to obey him."
Bruce Burns, 51, said he drove four hours from Little Ferry, N.J., the night before to join his friend in support of the amendment.
``Woo-hoo," hollered the mailman, giving a thumbs-up to a honking motorist. Pointing to the opponents across the street, he said: ``All these people can't be here without their mothers and fathers. We came here today to support God."