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Massachusetts AG on Proposed Marriage Amendment

July 25, 2007

Speaking at the 22nd annual dinner of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association earlier this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced that, if Massachusetts voters approved a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, she would support litigation challenging the constitutionality of the measure and asked lawyers in the civil rights division of her office to prepare for such litigation.

Although the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the initiative could be placed on the ballot if approved by the legislature, Coakley noted that at least two of the justices questioned the proposed amendment's constitutionality based on language from the Court's 2003 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, which stated that "no rational basis exists, or can be advanced, to support the definition of marriage" as only the union of one man and one woman.

Coakley further stated: "I believe it would be a travesty to let the oldest constitution in the country, a constitution authored by John Adams and one which has such a proud tradition of championing and expanding civil rights for people in the Commonwealth, to now be used to take away rights for a segment of the population."

Coakley's comments were made during the midst of a fierce battle in the state legislature over whether to allow the proposed amendment to reach the 2008 ballot. The legislature ultimately defeated the initiative a few weeks after Coakley's comments amid widespread reports of intense pressure from Governor Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi to keep the measure off the ballot.

Critics argue that, by challenging the measure, Coakley is failing to fulfill her duties as an Attorney General. They contend that Coakley swore upon entering office to "bear faith and allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" and to "support the constitution thereof" and that, as the Commonwealth's chief legal officer, she is obligated to defend and enforce the laws, including constitutional amendments, once enacted - even if she dislikes those laws. They believe that, had the legislature approved the marriage amendment for placement on the 2008 ballot and the voters approved the measure, it would have become part of the very constitution that Coakley swore to uphold.

Attorney General Coakley's comments are available on the website for the Massachusetts Attorney General's office at: http://www.ago.state.ma.us/sp.cfm?pageid=2421