Third attempt to ban same-sex marriage fails
Protesters shout, scuffle as lawmakers argue issue
Jeff Sutfin holds up a rainbow flag in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston on Wednesday.
Amid protests, Massachusetts lawmakers consider a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- In a joint session Thursday, the Massachusetts Legislature voted down the third attempt in two days to produce a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and immediately began debating another measure on the same issue.
The 103-96 vote came as lawmakers were well into their second day of passionate debate and behind-the-scenes negotiating -- attempts to hammer out a compromise on whether the state will recognize same-sex couples, and which rights it will allow them.
Thursday's session, which began at noon, continued into the evening in the statehouse on historic Beacon Hill, where crowds of protesters -- many of them shouting "Equal Rights!" -- demonstrated in support of same-sex marriages.
Lawmakers earlier in the day narrowly rejected a compromise proposal that sought to legalize civil unions but ban gay marriage. A similar amendment was rejected Wednesday. As married couples, same-sex partners would have more rights than they would in "civil unions."
The Massachusetts Constitutional Convention began a week after the state's highest court said gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry in the state. If that stands, the state would be the first to allow same-sex marriages.
Adding fuel to the fire, San Francisco's city clerk began issuing same-sex marriage licenses Thursday, despite the fact that gay marriages are illegal in California. (Full story)
The key issue of whether to ban same-sex marriage through an amendment to the state constitution has not yet made it to a vote.
State Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios, a Democrat, made a personal plea against the proposed amendment, as the Legislature's only openly gay lawmaker.
"I am the first person to speak on this amendment who is directly affected by it, I'll admit it," Barrios said, adding that his partner of more than 10 years and his two adopted children would be denied health benefits if the amendment were enacted.
Also during Thursday's session, State Rep. Shaun P. Kelly, a Republican, filed a motion to adjourn the session, which would essentially allow the court ruling in favor of gay marriage to stand. But legislators rejected that move by a 153-44 vote.
The extraordinary constitutional convention began Wednesday, drawing about 3,700 people protesting both sides of the issue. They lined the halls and stairwells of the statehouse. Hundreds more gathered outside chanting slogans and waving signs. Chants of "Let the people vote" could be heard from people on both sides of the issue.
Court set November deadline
Any amendment to change the state constitution would have to be ratified by both houses of the Legislature in two successive legislative sessions. Then the voters would have to approve it.
The earliest a constitutional amendment vote could be held would be November 2006. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the Legislature to allow gays to marry by this May.
Last week's ruling was in response to a question from the state Senate on whether civil unions for gay couples would be sufficient to meet the court's 4-3 November decision that gays and lesbians cannot be forbidden from joining in civil marriages under the Massachusetts Constitution.
Civil unions grant couples most of the rights of state civil marriages but provide none of the federal benefits of marriage such as Social Security.
Bush prepared to support constitutional ban
President Bush called the court's ruling "deeply troubling."
In his State of the Union address last month, Bush said he was prepared to support a constitutional amendment to prevent "activist judges" from "redefining marriage by court order."
Press secretary Scott McClellan said the president is "committed to doing what is legally necessary. ... If necessary, he will support a constitutional amendment."
McClellan said the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling moved the president closer to endorsing a constitutional amendment.
Social conservatives have called on the White House to take an unequivocal stand against same-sex unions, arguing they pose a threat to fundamental Judeo-Christian values.
McClellan said Bush recently told GOP members of Congress that a proposed amendment written by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colorado, was consistent with his views on the issue.
Politicians weigh in
The proposed federal amendment would forbid states from allowing gay marriages but permit them to pass laws allowing civil unions and same-sex legal partnership arrangements, as are now allowed in California and Vermont.
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, one of the nation's most prominent gay lawmakers, told CNN that gays are "not diluting the marriage between a man and a woman.
"The marriage between two heterosexuals who love each other, the overwhelming form of marriage, will be exactly unchanged," he said.
Thirty-eight states have passed laws forbidding the recognition of gay marriages.
The Massachusetts decision and similar court rulings in Canada have entered the Democratic presidential debate.
Front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has said he does not support gay marriage but does back civil unions. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signed the first state law on same-sex civil unions.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the question of same-sex marriage should be one for voters -- not the courts -- to decide.
CNN's David Mattingly and Maureen Madden contributed to this report.