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Massachusetts governor urges calm on same-sex issue

Lawmakers to resume debate on amendment later this month

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Gallery: Same-sex marriage battlegrounds

Same-sex marriages

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called on state residents Friday to respect the rule of law and all sides of the same-sex marriage debate as lawmakers continue to consider the issue.

"On a matter of such significance and with such tender emotions and sentiments involved, I'd ask that we continue to show respect and consideration for people of different views," he said at the Statehouse in Boston.

"The Legislature is now on track to put this issue before the voters. Ultimately, this is as it should be. The people of our state should decide."

Romney said he would not comment on his plans until state legislators complete their work at the end of the month. "But whatever I do, it will be within the bounds of the law," he said, ruling out issuing an executive order to block same-sex unions.

Legislators Thursday took tentative steps in favor of a constitutional amendment that would ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying but would legalize their civil unions.

The lawmakers approved three resolutions advancing the package during more than nine hours of often raucous debate. The proposed amendment still faces a number of hurdles before it could become law.

The Massachusetts House and Senate, again meeting jointly in a constitutional convention, is scheduled to reconvene March 29 for a final vote on the measure. Opponents are expected to offer amendments at that time in an attempt to sink the measure.

If passed, it would then be up to the newly elected Legislature in 2005 to give the measure a green light to be included on the 2006 ballot.

The amendment is designed to overrule a controversial decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court that banning same-sex couples from marrying was discriminatory. The court ordered the state to start licensing gay and lesbian marriages beginning May 17.

Romney made no secret of his stand on the issue Friday. "I believe that the definition of marriage has long been considered by the constitution as being between a man and a woman," he said, adding that the court chose to redefine it.

"The amendment preserves the meaning of the word as it was originally intended."

The amendment would not stop same-sex marriages set to begin in May, and it is uncertain what would happen to same-sex couples who marry between 2004 and 2006 if voters approve the measure. The amendment makes no provisions for those couples.

Last month, lawmakers convened a constitutional session, but none of the proposed amendments on same-sex marriage garnered enough votes to pass. Since then, the issue of gay and lesbian marriage has roared into the national spotlight, with marriage licenses being granted to same-sex couples in San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; areas of New York; and several other locales.

The passion generated by the issue was clearly on display Thursday in Boston as hundreds of people chanted and waved signs outside of the 200-year-old Statehouse, while others packed the building, lining the lobby, stairwells and just about anywhere there was room.

"If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't have one," read one sign. One of the more popular signs among same-sex marriage supporters said, "No discrimination in the Constitution."

At one point, these advocates sang the National Anthem, ending with roaring cheers. Others nearby, however, chanted, "God's way. One man, one woman!" and "One man, one woman. Let the people vote!"

President Bush on Thursday again reaffirmed his support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, telling a group of evangelical Christians that he "will defend the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage."

"The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in cultures and by every religious faith," Bush told the National Association of Evangelicals Convention in Colorado via satellite from the White House.

"Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. It is for that reason I support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman."

CNN's Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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