Governor Mitt Romney and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley called on the Legislature yesterday to hold a scheduled vote next month on a proposed ban of same-sex marriage, amid indications that gay-rights advocates are prepared to use procedural tactics to kill the measure.
Two weeks before lawmakers are scheduled to take up the constitutional amendment, Romney along with O'Malley and other religious leaders expressed concern that same-sex marriage supporters on Beacon Hill will try to prevent the measure from coming up for debate. Such an outcome could abruptly end the long campaign to put the ban to voters in 2008.
``We urge that the legislators let everyone's voice be heard," said O'Malley, of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston . ``Let the people vote." It was O'Malley's first appearance at a State House press conference, according to his office.
Advocates for same-sex marriage say they will do whatever it takes to make sure the amendment dies, leaving intact a 2003 Supreme Judicial Court decision that made Massachusetts the first state to allow same-sex weddings.
``Every possible option is on the table, as far as we're concerned," Marc Solomon, campaign director for the group MassEquality, told reporters after the press conference. Solomon said that statement included any permissible procedural tactic that prevented an up-or-down vote.
Romney and religious leaders have joined forces before on the issue, but O'Malley's appearance at the State House yesterday underscored how crucial this ballot effort has become for same-sex marriage opponents after years of fighting. If the amendment fizzles, it would be a major setback for the opponents, forcing them to decide whether to mount a new challenge in future years.
To reach the 2008 ballot, the amendment needs the support of at least 50 legislators at the July 12 Constitutional Convention, a joint session of the House and Senate, and then at least 50 votes at a similar convention during the 2007-2008 legislative session.
Both sides have previously said that the amendment has the 50 votes needed. As a result, advocates of same-sex marriage would need another route to block the amendment. A lawmaker could, for example, try to adjourn the convention before the gay-marriage ban comes up for debate . The amendment is at the bottom of a crowded agenda, and adjournment requires a simple majority vote.
Another suggested tactic is to try to persuade lawmakers to stay away, so that the convention would not have a quorum.
Seeking to divert such tactics, Romney yesterday branded them a threat to the democratic process.
``It will not be a vote for or against gay marriage," Romney said. ``No, it will be a vote for or against democracy."
Romney said he would consider legal options if lawmakers ignore what he called their ``constitutional duty" and use procedural means to defeat the measure, rather than voting. He said it was too early to know exactly what recourse he has or would take. ``The constitution's clear," he said. ``It doesn't say they may vote if they wish to [or] only if they get a certain quorum number. No, it says they shall vote."
But Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the constitution gives the Legislature the power to decide what should be on the ballot.
``Romney doesn't seem to get it," Isaacson said. ``He doesn't seem to get that in this country it's inappropriate to force everyone else to follow your religious views."
Yesterday's press conference featured, in addition to O'Malley, the bishops of the Fall River and Worcester dioceses and representatives of activist groups such as Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
The event occurred a day after a multifaith coalition of clergy who back same-sex marriage gathered at the Omni Parker House to call on O'Malley and other Catholic leaders to stop what the group labeled ``religious discrimination" by ending their campaign for the gay marriage ban.
Romney responded yesterday that the only religious liberties affected by gay marriage have been those of Catholic Charities, which opted earlier this year to halt its adoption program rather than be forced under state law to place children with same-sex couples.
As lobbying on both sides heats up before the July 12 vote, it is unknown whether Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, who will preside over the Constitutional Convention, will bring the measure to the floor for a vote, postpone action, or allow procedural tactics to kill it. His spokeswoman, Ann Dufresne, declined yesterday to respond to questions about his plans.
``It would be premature and inappropriate to comment on the Constitutional Convention calendar for a number of reasons," she said. ``The convention is still two weeks away. We are currently focused on getting the budget done."
Dufresne also said it was unclear whether the Legislature would want to consider the ban before the SJC rules on a challenge to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's certification of the ballot question. Gay-marriage backers argued that Reilly flouted a provision in the state constitution that blocks citizen-generated questions seeking the ``reversal of a judicial decision."
The case is still pending, and there is no timeline for a decision, said SJC spokeswoman Joan Kenney.
Travaglini's predecessor, Thomas F. Birmingham, infuriated gay-rights opponents when he hastily adjourned a Constitutional Convention in 2002 without allowing a vote on a measure to ban gay marriage.
The intended audience of yesterday's press conference was evidently the 200 lawmakers in the building. Roberto Miranda, a Roxbury pastor who chairs the ballot campaign, said that after gathering signatures from 170,000 residents who believe the public should have a chance to vote, the religious leaders should be able to sit back and let democracy run its course.
``Instead, we find ourselves here, uncertain and insecure, unsure of what course our legislators, sworn to represent us, will take on this most serious of matters," Miranda said.
If gay-rights advocates are so confident that the people of Massachusetts have accepted same-sex marriage and want to move on, Miranda asked, why not let them prove it at the ballot?
Solomon responded by saying that matters of civil rights do not belong on the ballot.
Romney and the religious leaders reiterated their belief yesterday that children should grow up with both a mother and a father. ``This is neither a Catholic nor a sectarian issue," O'Malley said. ``This is a human issue."
Pressed on whether gays and lesbians could be good parents, Romney did not directly say yes, but he said there were cases in which a family situation other than a heterosexual married couple could raise ``wonderful children."
O'Malley said there is an enormous social cost when marriage is weakened. ``To redefine marriage as merely an arrangement among adults undermines the family and will have serious consequences in our future," he said.
Scott Helman can be reached at email@example.com.