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Despite the high court’s ruling that all citizens, regardless of race, are guaranteed equal protection under the law, the legislature voted today to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would permit white voters to deny certain rights to the black citizens of the state of…

Um, wait.  What I meant to say was, the high court of the state of Massachusetts declared that every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation, has the right to marry.  And now the Massachusetts legislature has taken the first step to place a constitutional amendment banning any new gay marriages on the 2008 ballot.  Because, after all, it’s really important to let the majority rule on the rights of minorities.

If we’d only done that back before the civil rights movement, the citizens of Alabama would certainly have granted Rosa Parks a seat at the front of the bus without all those messy protests.  And “separate but equal” schools?  Why, they would have been voted down by an overwhelming majority in every state.  There was no need for those activists judges to rule in Brown v. Board of Education.***

[I thought it was appropriate to add this Boston Globe editorial from this AM — Pam]

A shameful reversal of rights

SIXTY-TWO state legislators voted to shrink the civil rights of Massachusetts citizens yesterday when they advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Every effort should be made now to kill the measure by reducing that number below 50 when the issue comes up again before the newly elected Legislature.

One of the key arguments raised by opponents of gay marriage is also one of the most spurious: that, having filed more than 123,000 certified signatures for the amendment, they have a right to see it go on the 2008 ballot.

There is no such right. The Constitution provides that it can only be changed by public instigation through an initiative amendment that must first be approved by one-quarter of two successive Legislatures. If the collection of signatures were reason enough to put a proposed amendment on the ballot, there would be no need for the one-quarter votes from the legislators. This means that each senator and representative is duty-bound not simply to pass the issue on to the electorate, but to vote it up or down on the merits.

In this case, a vote for the amendment is a vote to eliminate a civil right that is contained in the state Constitution — a shameful and perhaps unique reversal of the long forward march of civil rights progress, both locally and nationally. Each such vote is, as Governor-elect Deval Patrick said yesterday, “irresponsible and wrong.”

Opponents of gay marriage say that the one-quarter vote requirement exists to protect the rights of minorities, yet they are trying to use this process to extinguish minority rights.

And to what end? We are still waiting to hear of the first heterosexual couple whose marriage has been damaged by the more than 8,500 same-sex marriages performed here since 2004.

One anomaly of this process is that the second Legislature that would vote on this amendment has already been elected and takes office today. Clearly, the drafters of this constitutional provision required a vote from two separate Legislatures, imagining that the voters would have an intervening election to change the makeup of the second Legislature. That will not be the case this time.

When a final vote is taken by the new Legislature, the members must consider whether this is an appropriate issue to put to the voters. We believe Massachusetts voters would not take away this right, and a popular endorsement might be considered healthy. But civil rights are fundamental, and gay marriage should not be subject to plebiscite here, any more than it would have been appropriate to have Alabama voters directly decide school integration or Virginia voters decide interracial marriage.

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