BOSTON - Determined to keep Massachusetts from becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Gov. Mitt Romney filed emergency legislation yesterday to permit him to hire a special counsel.
The Republican governor said he would ask the special counsel to petition the state's highest court to delay the ruling that on May 17 will permit same-sex couples to wed in the state.
Romney said his move would allow him to "protect the integrity of the constitutional process" and "preserve the right of citizens to make this decision rather than having it made for them by the court."
Attorney General Tom Reilly, a Democrat, had earlier denied the governor's request that he seek a stay of the Supreme Judicial Court's decision. Yesterday, Reilly said, "I stand by my decision that there is no legal basis to seek a stay."
Reilly also refused to appoint a special deputy attorney general to carry out the governor's appeal.
Faulting Romney for "overstepping the boundaries of his office," state Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, a Boston Democrat, called the governor's newest tactic in the same-sex marriage fray "nothing more than an attempt to advance [his] political agenda by encroaching upon the legal role of the attorney general."
The governor wants to postpone enactment of the court's ruling in Goodridge vs. Massachusetts Board of Health until at least November 2006 - the first opportunity state voters could have to decide on a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
Last month, after weeks of anguished debate, state lawmakers narrowly approved the amendment. But they must again vote to pass the measure in the 2005 legislative session, and voters must subsequently endorse it before it can become law.
In the meantime, town clerks in Massachusetts can begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on May 17. Although the state requires a three-day waiting period, some gay and lesbian couples have said they would seek waivers so they can marry immediately.
Yesterday, the state's Registry of Vital Records and Statistics sent a letter to clerks to notify them of special sessions on how to proceed with same-sex marriage licenses.
As his special counsel, Romney has proposed former Supreme Judicial Court Judge Joseph R. Nolan, who earlier branded the Goodridge decision "an abomination."
In a letter to state lawmakers, Nolan said he has reviewed the ruling and believes there are "compelling reasons" for the court to issue a stay. Nolan also said that the amendment approved by the state House and Senate represents a "significant change" in the case.
Nolan served on the state's highest court from 1981 until his retirement in 1995.
Mary L. Bonauto, a lawyer for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, dismissed Romney's latest move as "a last-ditch and hopeless effort ... to single-handedly change the law and deny rights to gay and lesbian couples."
Noting that the Supreme Judicial Court twice ruled in favor of the same-sex plaintiffs in Goodridge, Bonauto added, "You don't change the rules because you lost - twice."
Jan LaRue, chief counsel in Washington for Concerned Women for America - a group that attempts to bring a Christian perspective to public policy - praised Romney for seeking to bypass the attorney general.
"If Tom Reilly won't do his job, the governor is right to do all that he can to ensure the authority of the legislative branch is protected," she said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.