Patrick: Gay marriage vote could be postponed to round up votes

by Steve LeBlanc
Friday Jun 8, 2007
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Gov. Deval Patrick said he’ll ask lawmakers to postpone next week’s scheduled vote on a proposed constitutional amendment barring gay marriage if he doesn’t think there are enough votes to kill the measure.

"We want a vote that goes the right way, that keeps us off the ballot," Patrick said Thursday after attending an evening fundraiser for MassEquality, an advocacy group that opposes the amendment. "If we need more time, we’ll ask for more time."

Patrick, who supports the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision barring the state from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, said he’s been on the phone trying to round up enough votes to defeat the measure. He wouldn’t say if he’s received any commitments from lawmakers agreeing to change their position.

Both sides agree that 57 lawmakers have either voted in favor of the question in the past or pledged to support it.

Opponents need to convince eight of those lawmakers to change their minds to block the question from reaching voters on the 2008 ballot. Supporters of the amendment need to hold on to at least 50 lawmakers.

Patrick, who said he wants a vote on the merits of the amendment, said he didn’t underestimate the strength of the supporters of the question.

"There are still great passions and great fear and great intolerance on the other side," he said.

Supporters of the question say their coalition of lawmakers is holding firm. They also urged legislative leaders to allow a vote when House and Senate lawmakers meet in a joint constitutional convention on June 14.

"We have had no indication of any of our 57 legislators changing their vote," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "Most of the representatives I’ve talked to are feeling tremendous pressure, but they’re standing firm."

He added: "There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on."

The final decision about whether to call for a vote next week rests with Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth. As senate president, Murray -- a supporter of gay marriage -- presides over the constitutional convention.

Her spokeswoman, Ann Dufresne, said Thursday that Murray wants a vote, but also wants to defeat the measure.

"She is going to convene the (constitutional convention) on Thursday, but whether we get to the gay marriage question is really dependent on the members," Dufresne said.

If Murray isn’t convinced there are enough votes to kill the amendment, she could recognize a motion to postpone the constitutional convention to another date to give opponents of the measure more time to change votes.

Gay marriage activists remained upbeat about the chances of changing the eight votes needed to block the question from reaching the ballot.

They point out that for the first time all three of the top political leaders on Beacon Hill -- Patrick, Murray and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston -- support gay marriage. Last year former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Senate President Robert Travaglini opposed gay marriage.

Patrick also plans to march in Boston’s gay pride parade this weekend. Organizers say he will be the first governor to do so.

As the constitutional convention approaches, both sides have been ramping up pressure, stalking Statehouse halls and appealing directly to voters.

MassEquality campaign director Marc Solomon, said the group has spent $750,000 on a media campaign on television, print and Internet ads, and a direct mail appeal. Supporters of the question have also taken to the airwaves.

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