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SJC refuses to force lawmakers to vote on gay marriage ban

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that it had no authority to order the Legislature to vote on a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage, but the justices scolded lawmakers for shirking "their lawful obligations."

The SJC, the same court which legalized gay marriages beginning in May 2004, issued the unanimous ruling this morning in response to a lawsuit spearheaded by outgoing Governor Mitt Romney. The justices wrote that all the legislators took a vote to uphold the Constitution and will "ultimately will have to answer to the people who elected them."

Romney and 10 other plaintiffs charged that legislators subverted the state constitution Nov. 9 when they met as a constitutional convention and took no action on the voter-initiative petition. The Legislature voted, 109 to 87, to recess before deciding whether to put the amendment on the 2008 ballot.

Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment collected 170,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot in 2008. To qualify for a statewide referendum, a measure needs the support of at least 50 legislators in two consecutive sessions. Instead of acting on the measure, the Legislature moved to recess the joint session until Jan. 2.

The state attorney general's office, representing state Senate President Robert Travaglini, had urged the court to stay out of the dispute, citing the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.

It argued that voters unhappy with lawmakers for refusing to take up the question can vote them out of office.

More than 8,000 gay couples have been married since 2004 in Massachusetts, the only state to allow gay marriage.

The proposed amendment would have banned future gay marriages, but left those already made intact.

Gay marriage opponent argue the people, not the courts, should define something as important to society as marriage.

Gay marriage supporters say the marriages have benefited the state and that the civil rights of a minority shouldn't be put to a popular vote.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report

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