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Close and narrowing vote on gay marriage coming in Massachusetts:

As of today, gay couples have been marrying in Massachusetts for three years. In each state legislative session since then, there's been an effort to ban gay marriage by constitutional amendment. Initially there was strong legislative opposition to gay marriages, with perhaps 3/5 of the state's 200 house and senate members supporting some form of ban (some wanted to ban gay marriage and civil unions, others just gay marriage).

But opposition to gay marriage has dwindled every year as anti-gay marriage legislators have been defeated in elections and as others have become convinced that recognizing gay unions hasn't hurt anyone. For example, the Republican senate minority leader and co-sponsor of a state constitutional ban changed his mind and opposed the amendment he had previously sponsored. "Gay marriage has begun and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth," he told the New York Times in 2005, "with the exception of those who can now marry who could not before."

Nevertheless, the effort to prevent gay couples from marrying continues. The latest strategy, which started with voter petitions, requires just one fourth (50) of the state's legislators to agree to send the amendment to the voters for approval. The legislators have to do so in two consecutive sessions. Last session 57 legislators voted for the ban, eight more than needed. Sometime this session, perhaps as early as mid-June, there will be a second vote. If it succeeds, the amendment would go on the November 2008 ballot in Massachusetts.

Gay-marriage supporters and national Democratic leaders, concerned about the implications of energizing social conservatives during a presidential election, are pushing hard to get eight more state legislators to switch their votes. That would prevent what would be a mammoth ballot fight in the state, drawing a lot of money and energy from around the country. According to the Boston Globe, they may have gotten support down to 52 in favor of the ban, just three short of what they need to stop it. That alone is an astonishing drop in legislative support from the more than 100 who supported some kind of constitutional ban just three years ago. This will be very interesting to watch.

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