The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that it is unconstitutional for state lawmakers to refuse to vote on an initiative that calls for marriage to be limited to one man and one woman in that state.
The ruling could not have been better for advocates of traditional, biblically-based marriage, Brian W. Raum, the senior legal counsel for the the Alliance Defense Fund told WND.
“The plaintiff in that case had asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment and a writ of mandamus. The court (said it) didn’t have the authority to force the legislature to vote, but it issued a lengthy opinion which established … that the legislature has a constitutional duty to vote,” he said.
At issue is an initiative in Massachusetts signed by 170,000 people seeking to have a question placed on the 2008 ballot that would allow voters to decide how marriage should be defined. Massachusetts currently “authorizes” same-sex couples to be married based on an opinion from the state court system, and rules that have been implemented by officials in the state.
The initiative, organized by VoteOnMarriage.org, was presented to the legislature since by Massachusetts’ Constitution, lawmakers must vote on any initiative presented to them.
However, only 50 affirmative votes are needed to place the issue on the ballot, and through the political maneuverings of pro-“gay marriage” factions in the legislature, members voted to recess until Jan. 2, the last legal day of the current legislative session, without voting on the initiative.
The ADF has a federal lawsuit pending against the 109 individual lawmakers who endorsed that recess vote, and Raum said the state court opinion, in a separate state legal case brought by some of those who signed the initiative, simply strengthens that.
The court’s conclusion is that “members of the joint session have a constitutional duty to vote – before recessing on Jan. 2, 2007,” Raum told WND.
“That’s significant. The legislators have no excuse. There’s the argument that they have a right to avoid the vote, just because the Supreme Judicial Court has not ordered them to vote. But any way you slice it, they’re breaking the law, acting unconstitutionally,” Raum said.
“This decision by the SJC strengthens the federal case against the individual legislators,” he said. “We’re claiming the legislature violated the federal Constitution by depriving people of the right to vote.”
“Legislators who act illegally must be held accountable,” Raum said. “If Massachusetts legislators do not vote, they will be in clear violation of the state and federal Constitutions.”
He said it’s not surprising that the court would decline to order a vote by lawmakers, an order that could be interpreted as violating the separation of powers. But he said that doesn’t make the lawmakers’ refusal to vote legal.
He said the institutional power supporting homosexual marriages appeared to be strong, extending even to a series of news media reports that came out of Massachusetts, such as one that said, “Massachusetts’ highest court dealt a blow to gay marriage opponents, saying it cannot force state lawmakers to vote on holding a referendum that could ban same-sex unions.”
Another report said the court had no authority to order a vote.
But Lisa Barstow, of the VoteOnMarriage organization, said the decision was clear.
“The Supreme Judicial Court has made it crystal clear that legislators have a constitutional obligation to vote on the marriage amendment,” she said. “There are no more excuses.”
Glen Lavy, a senior counsel for the ADF, said when the federal lawsuit was filed that there will be “big trouble” if lawmakers who have sworn to uphold the Constitution “can willfully ignore it with impunity once in office.”
Last July the the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman could be placed on the 2008 ballot.
But it’s been held up for the five months since because the state constitution states the Legislature has a duty to vote on whether the process for placing the amendment on the ballot can proceed.
The federal lawsuit seeks a holding of personal liability for the individual lawmakers who have refused to bring the issue to a vote.
VoteOnMarriage.org earlier announced its lawsuit against Massachusetts lawmakers over marriage amendment
John Haskins, who works with the unrelated group, Parents Rights Coalition, said the action is the result of the grass roots in Massachusetts and around the country insisting that the pro-family legal community not give up on Massachusetts and that legal strategies that had not been considered be employed.
He said pro-family lawyers “will either start taking the gloves off and learning to play offense and adamantly defend the state and federal Constitutions they’ve sworn to defend or we might as well pack it up and go home.”
Haskins also works with a group called Mass Resistance.
“Ultimately what we all want is marriage between one man and one woman to be restored in Massachusetts,” Barstow told WND. “We believe the route we are taking is the correct route.”
The federal lawsuit, which is available online, was filed in U.S. District Court in Worcester, Mass., and names 109 legislators for violating the constitutional rights of state residents by intentionally refusing to vote on the citizen initiative.
“The evidence is overwhelming that those in the Massachusetts legislature who continue to recess the Constitutional Convention are doing so in an illegal effort to kill the marriage amendment by violating the state constitution,” said Kris Mineau, chief of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
The proposed initiative would expire if there’s no action by the end of the legislative session on Jan. 2, 2007, officials said.
Sen. President Robert Travaglini controls the rostrum during the convention and as such has sole discretion to control debate, said the VoteOnMarriage.org group. “House Speaker Sal DiMasi, a vocal opponent of the marriage amendment, lobbied a majority of the caucus on November 9, 2006, to vote to recess the convention to the last day of the legislative calendar – an effort to kill the amendment without a clear up or down vote,” the group said.
Also participating in the state lawsuit was outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney, who had sent a letter to the 109 lawmakers who voted to recess, saying they were “frustrating the democratic process and subverting the plain meaning of the Constitution” by refusing to vote.
The legal action then was brought on behalf of Romney, acting as a resident of the state, and several other people.
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