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Massachusetts high court refuses to force lawmakers to vote on gay marriage ban

Massachusetts high court refuses to force lawmakers to vote on gay marriage ban

The highest court in Massachusetts on Wednesday said it had no authority to force lawmakers to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage, angry that lawmakers failed to act on the proposed amendment in November, had sued, asking the court to clarify whether the state's constitution required lawmakers to vote.
In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court wrote: "Beyond resorting to aspirational language that relies on the presumptive good faith of elected representatives, there is no presently articulated judicial remedy for the Legislature's indifference to, or defiance of, its constitutional duties."
The same court had ruled in 2003 that the state constitution guaranteed gays the right to marry.
Opponents of gay marriage had collected 170,000 signatures to get a state constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, but their effort still needed the support of a quarter of the Legislature. Lawmakers in November voted to recess rather than vote on the question.
Gay marriage opponents, including Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential Republican presidential candidate, filed suit, arguing that the people's will was being thwarted and that lawmakers were violating their right to petition for a constitutional amendment.
The state attorney general's office, representing state Senate President Robert Travaglini, had urged the court to stay out of the dispute, citing the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.
The court said that drafters of the state provision that allows for citizen petitions "did not intend a simple majority of the joint session to have the power effectively to block progress of an initiative," but refused to intervene judicially.
Instead, the court said that state lawmakers who "now seek to avoid their lawful obligations ... ultimately will have to answer to the people who elected them."
A spokesman for Romney, who was on vacation, had no immediate comment Wednesday.
The proposed amendment would have banned future gay marriages, but left those already made intact.
More than 8,000 gay couples have been married since 2004 in Massachusetts, the only state to allow gay marriage. Other states offer similar rights but not the title of marriage to gay couples: New Jersey will join Connecticut and Vermont in February in offering civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships.
Gay marriage opponents argue that the people, not the courts, should define something as important to society as marriage. Supporters of gay marriage say the marriages have benefited the state and that the civil rights of a minority should not be put to a popular vote.