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Mass. civil union compromise falters

By Associated Press
Published February 12, 2004

BOSTON - The Massachusetts Legislature narrowly rejected a compromise proposal Wednesday that sought to legalize civil unions but ban same-sex marriages, delivering a setback to lawmakers who wanted to avoid taking the divisive issue head-on.

The defeat of the compromise means that lawmakers will return to the Statehouse today to consider either an outright ban on gay marriage or letting the state Constitution remain intact.

The joint House and Senate session adjourned for the evening about 8:30 p.m. after about six hours of debate.

The bipartisan proposal was crafted by Senate leaders who wished to overturn a high court decision legalizing gay marriage while extending equal benefits to gay couples. It was rejected 104-94.

The compromise would have made Vermont-style civil unions automatically legal in Massachusetts in November 2006, the earliest an amendment could be placed on a ballot for voter approval. At that time, any gay couples married in Massachusetts would be stripped of their licenses and considered part of a civil union.

Massachusetts was thrust into the epicenter of the national gay marriage debate in November when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 that that it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marriage. The court definitively reaffirmed the decision last week.

People from across the country were confronted with tight security and a throng of reporters as the lawmakers entered the volatile national debate over gay rights.

Impromptu rallies erupted outside the 200-year-old building, and hundreds of people lined both sides of the street, holding signs, waving flags and eliciting honks from passing cars.

State police had to separate two crowds inside the Statehouse who began pushing and shoving after one group unfurled an American flag across from the chamber and began chanting "One Man. One Woman. Let the People Vote." Moments later, a contingent of gay marriage backers arrived shouting "Equality Now."

At one point, dozens of opponents of gay marriage knelt and prayed amid the din.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 01:00:30]

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