Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Has your signature been stolen?"

"Has your signature been stolen?"

This is a question that I heard when I picked up the receiver in response to the ring.

This seemed an odd question to open a telephone call with, but very quickly became obviously relevant.

It was about the anti-gay marriage petition people.


Even prior to the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling (in 2003) that the prohibitions against same-sex marriage were contrary to the state Constitution, there were initiative petitions being offered that would restrict access to civil unions, petitions to restrict redress in the event of discrimination in hiring or access to housing, or workplace discrimination or harassment, or ability to adopt children, including an initiative petition in 2001 that sought to ban same-sex marriage.

In Massachusetts the initiative petition is a process that enables citizens to put proposed laws for enactment by the legislature, or amendments to the state Constitution to a vote of the Commonwealth's citizens as a whole. (* see below for a description of the initiative petition process in Massachusetts)

In November of 2003 the Massachusetts State Supreme Court (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) ruled that the laws in the Commonwealth that banned same-sex marriage were against the Massachusetts State Constitution, and directed the state legislature to compose laws that incorporated civil marriage by members of the same sex. In 2004 the legislature attempted to satisfy that requirement by drafting "civil unions." The state Supreme Court said, in effect, "we *said* marriage, not civil unions, and we *meant* marriage."

Since then, in addition to local, in-state groups, there have been out-of-state groups that have come to Massachusetts, "founding" local chapters and representing themselves to the public as home-grown "grass-roots" organizations (a tactic that Theresa Nielson-Hayden terms "astroturfing" - for fake grass-roots). This is a tactic that we have seen in a number of states in order to push for restrictions of gay rights in those states (I suppose the people in those states don't really know what should be the "proper" priorities).

Because of the ruling that the prior laws were contrary to the state Constitution, the only way to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts will be to change the state Constitution itself. (** see below for background). The Constitutional Convention that Governor Mitt Romney called didn't do the trick, so the opponents decided to go the initiative Petition route.

Which brings us to the phone call.

(see the full text, Under The Fold)

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