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Massachusetts lawmakers recess without gay marriage ban

Legislature to try again next month

Massachusetts legislators file out of the State House early Friday.
Massachusetts legislators file out of the State House early Friday.

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Amid protests, Massachusetts lawmakers consider a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
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Justice and Rights

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature recessed at midnight, failing to craft a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

The Massachusetts Constitutional Convention will reconvene March 11 to try again.

The recess came after the Legislature voted down a third attempt in two days to produce an amendment.

The 103-96 vote came as the lawmakers were well into their second day of passionate debate and behind-the-scenes negotiating -- attempts to hammer out a compromise on whether the state will recognize same-sex couples and which rights it will allow them.

Thursday's session, which began at noon, continued until the stroke of midnight in the State House on historic Beacon Hill, where crowds of protesters -- many of them shouting "Equal Rights!" -- demonstrated in support of same-sex marriages.

Lawmakers earlier in the day narrowly rejected a compromise proposal that sought to legalize civil unions but ban gay marriage. A similar amendment was rejected Wednesday. As married couples, same-sex partners would have more rights than in "civil unions."

The constitutional convention began a week after the state's highest court said gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry in the state.

Adding fuel to the fire, San Francisco's county clerk began issuing same-sex marriage licenses Thursday, despite the fact that gay marriages are illegal in California. (Full story)

The first couple to be married: Phyllis Lyon, 80, and Dorothy Martin, 83, who have been together for 51 years.

During Thursday's session in Massachusetts, State Rep. Shaun P. Kelly filed a motion to adjourn the session, which would essentially allow the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriages to stand. However, legislators voted 153-44 not to adjourn the session.

State Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios, an openly gay lawmaker, pleaded against the proposed amendment.

"I am the first person to speak on this amendment who is directly affected by it, I'll admit it," Barrios said, adding that his partner of more than 10 years and his two adopted children would be denied health benefits if the amendment were enacted.

Another legislator, Rep. Elizabeth Malia, spoke about her partner of 30 years.

"The most difficult part of this whole debate is people being able to understand and identify who we are," she said.

During the first session, an estimated 3,700 people -- lobbyists and protesters, young and old, gays and straights -- crammed into the State House, lining the lobby, stairwells and just about anywhere there was room. Hundreds more gathered outside the 200-year-old building, chanting slogans and waving signs.

State Rep. Philip Travis, a Democratic sponsor of the amendment to ban gay marriage, said the union of one man and one woman "will be protected in Massachusetts."

He added that he hopes Massachusetts will not be "the first state in the union to endorse gay marriage by legislation."

State Sen. Harriett Chandler told lawmakers: "I urge my colleagues to stand with me against discrimination today and to oppose this attempt to amend our constitution."

Court set November deadline

Any amendment to change the state constitution would have to be ratified by both houses of the Legislature in two successive legislative sessions. Then the voters would have to approve it.

The earliest a constitutional amendment vote could be held would be November 2006. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the Legislature to allow gays to marry by this May.

Last week's ruling was in response to a question from the state Senate on whether civil unions for gay couples would be sufficient to meet the court's 4-3 November decision that gays and lesbians cannot be forbidden from joining in civil marriages under the Massachusetts Constitution.

Civil unions grant couples most of the rights of state civil marriages but provide none of the federal benefits of marriage such as Social Security.

Bush prepared to support constitutional ban

President Bush called the Massachusetts court's ruling "deeply troubling."

In his State of the Union address last month, Bush said he was prepared to support a constitutional amendment to prevent "activist judges" from "redefining marriage by court order."

Press secretary Scott McClellan said the president is "committed to doing what is legally necessary. ... If necessary, he will support a constitutional amendment."

McClellan said the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling moved the president closer to endorsing a constitutional amendment.

Social conservatives have called on the White House to take an unequivocal stand against same-sex unions, arguing they pose a threat to fundamental Judeo-Christian values.

McClellan said Bush recently told GOP members of Congress that a proposed amendment written by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colorado, was consistent with his views on the issue.

Politicians weigh in

The proposed federal amendment would forbid states from allowing gay marriages but permit them to pass laws allowing civil unions and same-sex legal partnership arrangements, as are now allowed in California and Vermont.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, one of the nation's most prominent gay lawmakers, told CNN that gays are "not diluting the marriage between a man and a woman."

"The marriage between two heterosexuals who love each other, the overwhelming form of marriage, will be exactly unchanged," he said.

Thirty-eight states have passed laws forbidding the recognition of gay marriages.

The Massachusetts decision and similar court rulings in Canada have entered the Democratic presidential debate.

Front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has said he does not support gay marriage but does back civil unions. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signed the first state law on same-sex civil unions.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the question of same-sex marriage should be one for voters -- not the courts -- to decide.

CNN's David Mattingly and Maureen Madden contributed to this report.

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