Yesterday, the Phoenix published an article entitled Gays win huge victory! I found the whole thing kind of confusing, but I think I eventually got the idea:
As of Thursday morning, there were three possible amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution under consideration. All three of them banned same-sex marriage. One (I gather) didn't provide for civil unions at all; one allowed the legislature to create civil unions but also allowed the legislature to define what a civil union was; and the the third, known as the Leadership amendment or the Travaglini-Finneran amendment, defined civil unions as providing "entirely the same benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to couples married under Massachusetts law." Furthermore, "All laws applicable to marriage shall also apply to civil unions."
The legislature voted three times on Thursday. The first two times, they voted for the Leadership amendment in place of the other two proposed amendments. Apparently this was in accordance with the strategy of those in favor of same-sex marriage; the plan was to get the best of the three amendments chosen as the only one under consideration, and then in the final vote to vote it down.
So the Travaglini-Finneran amendment won the first two votes, making it the only amendment under consideration. But then in the third and final vote, it won again, making it the official amendment agreed upon by the legislature.
On the one hand, good news for gay rights: at worst, after the issue goes to the voters in a couple years, Massachusetts will have civil unions that are exactly like marriage in everything but name built into the constitution. That's a step beyond Vermont, where (as I understand it) civil unions are defined by law rather than the constitution.
On the other hand, not so good news for same-sex marriage per se. Especially if the courts agree to hold off on granting marriage licenses until the constitutional amendment is decided by the voters.
I dunno. I feel strongly that separate-but-equal isn't equal; no matter how equal marriages and civil unions are in the eyes of the law, I suspect that just about everyone, on all sides of the issue, will consider civil unions to be a second-class form of marriage. The MA Supreme Court agrees; that's what they said when the legislature asked them if civil unions (without a constitutional amendment) would satisfy them.
But this may be the best we can hope for at the moment. And there's always a chance—maybe even a good chance—that in 2006 the voters will reject the amendment.
One interesting thing about civil unions in both VT and MA: they're available only to same-sex couples. On the one hand, this means that there's no chance of them becoming the civil version of marriage (thereby leaving the word "marriage" to apply to the religious version)—not that there really would've been much chance of that anyway, but it was fun to contemplate. On the other hand, it means that if only people can be convinced that civil unions are better than marriages, then opposite-sex couples will start suing to be granted the right to a civil union, and eventually the amendment will be overturned.
(Yes, that was a joke.)