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Expanding the circle of rights

The Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest in the country and, some say, the most generous in its interpretation of personal liberty. This afternoon the legislative branch of government joined the judiciary in upholding the proudest traditions of the state by decisively voting down an effort to use the Constitution to restrict civil rights.

Advocates of the constitutional ban on gay marriage needed only 50 of 200 votes to advance their cause to the ballot; they mustered only 45. More significantly, 151 legislators voted no on the amendment, leaving no doubt that proponents didn't have the required 25 percent of the constitutional convention. Legislators, taken with the significance of the moment, embraced and some shed tears on the House floor.

No doubt some were tears of relief -- Massachusetts will now be spared a costly, divisive, distracting ballot fight in the middle of a presidential campaign year. But some were tears of joy and pride. Legislators deserve to be proud of their votes, and residents can be proud of Massachusetts.

After three years of experience with gay marriage that has harmed exactly no one, the state's gay and lesbian couples can now get back to their ordinary lives, enduring the mundane tasks and rituals of daily life alongside their neighbors and co-workers. But now they do so secure in the knowledge that they are full citizens in a Commonwealth of inclusion.