By deciding to vote on one initiative petition – the gay marriage ban – but not the other – health care – less than a week after the SJC issued a unanimous opinion saying the Legislature must vote up or down on the merits of every initiative before it, the Senate President spat in the face of each and every SJC justice.
Having decided the Legislature was above the law, the Senate President chose to vote on an initiative opposed by 2/3 of the people – the ban – and to duck a vote on one supported by over 75% of them – the health care amendment, spitting in the faces of the majority of voters in this state.
Having agreed with House leadership to allow debate on the ban before taking a vote, the Senate President called the vote before anyone could be recognized.
After meeting with the Governor elect, who opposed a vote on the marriage ban, the Senate President told him where to get off by using the power of the gavel to move it forward in the process.
It’s not a pretty picture. It’s the same disrespect for process that drove marriage equality advocates to the SJC where a bare majority, 4-3, fortunately held that the state could not discriminate when it comes to marriage. In 2003, if just one justice had thought otherwise, same sex marriage supporters’ only recourse would have been to the initiative process because a majority of the Legislature opposed civil unions and same sex marriage wasn’t even on the table.
But that same SJC that decided Goodrich has made clear that while it can interpret the constitution only the people can amend it. The SJC has, therefore, also held in two separate unanimous opinions that the same sex marriage ban is something that can be sent to the ballot and that the Legislature must vote on the merits of all initiative amendments.
Whether by the legislative route or by initiative the people can create rights the Court says don’t exist or take away Court created rights – for better or worse we all as voters have the last say.
Obviously, I am a process liberal. I have watched the Legislature’s sausage making for decades as an assistant secretary in the Dukakis Administration, as a Senate Committee Counsel and as a citizen. There are always losers and most of the time they have been the people whose issues I strongly support. Occasionally, its folks whose issues I find abhorrent.
But I firmly believe that unless we protect everyone’s rights whether we agree with them or not we serve as enablers for the kind of lawlessness and lack of accountability to the people displayed in yesterday’s ConCon.
We can’t expect our elected officials to protect our substantive and procedural rights when we’re advocating that they strip others of theirs. We may win one battle, maybe even a couple but we’re setting the stage to lose the war.
When asked by her home town newspaper to comment on the recent SJC decision, one representative responded with the question, “How can we expect our constituents to obey the law if we don’t?” We have to ask ourselves a very similar question. How can we expect our legislators to respect our rights if we advocate that they deny others theirs?
I thank the 92 legislators who took their oath of office seriously and voted to discharge the Health Care Amendment from a phantom committee charged with killing it so it could get the vote on the merits mandated by our constitution. I also thank the 134 legislators who voted against the gay marriage ban and look forward to working with MassEquality to make that vote 151 next time. But I cannot and will not support ducking a vote.
Barbara Waters Roop
Health Care for Massachusetts Campaign