Boston The Massachusetts Legislature took a decisive step Monday toward a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and legalizing civil unions, the first in a series of votes required over the next 2 1/2 years.
Within moments of the 105-92 vote, Gov. Mitt Romney said he would ask the state's highest court to delay enacting its November ruling that ordered same-sex marriages to begin taking place May 17. He said he would seek a formal stay until the process of amending the state constitution was complete.
The vote must be affirmed again during the next two-year session after this fall's elections, when all 200 seats of the Legislature are open. Voters must then approve the proposed amendment in the fall of 2006.
Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly, who represents the state in court, said he would not seek to delay the May 17 deadline on Romney's behalf. Without court action, Monday's decision will not affect the deadline.
If the amendment is approved by voters, Massachusetts would join Vermont in offering same-sex couples the chance to join in civil unions.
"I believe the Supreme Judicial Court has an obligation to the constitution and the people of Massachusetts to withhold this decision, to stay this decision until the people of Massachusetts can make a final determination for themselves," Romney said.
But Reilly, who is elected, said he would not interfere with the ruling.
"It was very clear to me as attorney general that the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court have made up their minds," said Reilly, a Democrat. "Do I agree with their decision? No. Absolutely not. But that is the law of the state."
Monday's vote came in the third round of a constitutional convention on the contentious issue and completes the Legislature's action on gay marriage for the year.
The amendment's approval brought a roar from activists on both sides of the debate, who packed the Statehouse to watch the proceedings. Neither side was happy with the outcome.
"I believe many of them are going to feel very ashamed of what they've just done today," said Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
Many conservatives also opposed the solution, arguing that it requires citizens to vote on two very different questions -- a gay marriage ban and legalization of civil unions -- with one vote.
"We are giving the people a false choice," said state Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Republican. "We're saying, 'No problem, you can vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the only way you can do it is if you create civil unions that are entirely the same as marriage.' Ultimately, if this ever makes it to the ballot, it will fail."
The proposal specifies that civil unions would not grant federal benefits to gay couples.