Sunday, March 25, 2007

Deval Patrick on Marriage Equality

In the formula, what's the value for:

Good Intentions + Power + Charisma = ?

Our governor claims that he expects it to bring the defeat of the anti-marriage-equality amendment in this year's Constitutional Convention. Speaking to bloggers in Boston Latin's basement room 023 yesterday after his first town-hall meeting, he said he was working with present -- and past -- legislative leaders to make that happen.

I remain to be convinced, but at least the attitude is right.

As a refresher:
  • This amendment would stop same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, taking away rights from one minority by putting discriminatory limits in the constitution for that purpose for the first time.
  • The ballot-initiative process requires a 25% vote of the 200 member legislature in two consecutive ConCon sessions.
  • The last count we saw gave the anti-equality people 56 to 58 votes, plenty to put it on the 2008 ballot, and guarantee a lobbying and vitriol fest for the year and one-half until November 2008.
  • The new senate president, Therese Murray, is a marriage-equality supporter, as is House Speaker Sal DiMasi, but she calls for a vote on the matter and ruled out any parliamentary procedures to defeat it.
  • Politicians and interest groups on both sides are scrambling to lock in votes before a vote, which could come as early as May 5th.
Patrick had the right attitude on what needs to be done short term, but would not commit on fixing the underlying problem of abuse of ballot initiatives. Those were originally put in our constitution (half of states now have the process) to act as a corrective when a legislature has done something really stupid. It was never meant to overturn court decisions or permit trampling the rights of this minority or that. Here and elsewhere, this well-created tool has devolved into a mean-spirited one, one that means refinement to return it to its purpose.

For the ConCon issue though, he said, "Yes, we are unequivocally and already working" to defeat the amendment. He claims to have a strategy in place and that "I think we can win a vote on its merits."

He acknowledged that failure here would have deep, destructive effects. Specifically, floods of outside interest and money would pour on Massachusetts up to the 2008 ballot. That would disrupt the government here, both executive and legislative, when we should be implementing much needed reform. As Patrick put it, "If we don't defeat it in the legislature, that's all we're going to do for the next two years."

On the other hand, he said that returning the ballot initiative process to its original purpose was down the list of his legislative agenda. Face to face on the way out, I urged him to bump it up and said I would like to prevent such abuses as we have seen. As least he responded, "So would I."

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