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Massachusetts, Mitt Romney & Marriage

Gay activists appear to be up in arms with outgoing Massachusetts Republican Governor — and likely 2008 GOP presidential candidate — Mitt Romney for requesting that the the state’s Supreme Judicial Court place an initiative on the Bay State’s ballot banning gay marriage and so overturning its Goodrich ruling mandating that the state recognize gay marriage.

Yesterday, that court held that “while state lawmakers have a constitutional duty to vote on a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage, the justices could not order the Legislature to vote.” Lee Swislow, executive executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, like many gay leaders and activists hopes the legislature won’t respond to the court’s invitation as she wants to keep the issue off the state ballot. Despite the hopes of these activists, the Massachusetts legislature may take up the issue next “Tuesday, the last day day of its current session.

Unlike Ms. Swislow and gay leaders, I hope the legislature puts this important issue on the ballot. By keeping it off the ballot, Massachusetts legislators would do a tremendous disservice to the cause of gay marriage. Since most polls show a majority of voters in the Bay State favor gay marriage, the initiative stands a good chance of passing. If it does pass, it would be the first time citizens in a state voted to approve gay marriage. (Last month, Arizona voters were merely the first to defeat a proposal which would have prevented state recognition of same-sex marriage and other similar unions.)

A victory in one state, even a deep blue one, would provide great momentum for the cause of gay marriage. Not only that, the initiative process itself would provide an important forum for debate on gay marriage. I believe very strongly that we need this debate, a chance for marriage advocates to put forward sound arguments in favor of changing this ancient institution to include same-sex unions.

Governor Romney may be appealing to social conservatives who vote in GOP primaries in pushing for such a referendum, but he may well serve to undermine the very cause these conservatives advocate — preventing states from recognizing same-sex unions.

Yet, gay leaders remain focused on keeping the issue off the ballot, even in a state favorably disposed to gay marriage. I remain puzzled at their reluctance to discuss this issue which is, I believe, of paramount importance to our community.