With the approval of just 50 lawmakers — a quarter of the Legislature — in this legislative session and the next, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman would appear on the November 2008 ballot. But the convention could recess or adjourn without a vote on the matter if 101 members of the heavily Democratic body agree.
"It's not like we're looking for something extra," said Jeremy Spiegel outside the Statehouse, holding a sign that read, "No Discrimination in the Constitution." He added: "Same-sex couples just want the same rights as straight couples."
Across the road, Travis Housman had the opposite opinion. He said marriage historically has been between the sexes, not within them, and he wanted the Legislature to allow state residents to vote on the matter in 2008.
"If we lose, we lose, but we want the right to vote on it," Housman said.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November 2003 that the state's constitution guarantees gays and lesbians the right to marry in Massachusetts. Those weddings began in May 2004, and since then, more than 8,000 couples have tied the knot.
If voters approve the proposed amendment, all same-sex couples who were married before the law goes into effect would retain their marriage benefits, but no more gay marriages would be permitted.
Lawmakers who support gay marriage scored across-the-board victories in Tuesday's elections — most notably Democrat Deval Patrick, who will succeed GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage.
But Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes same-sex marriages, said support for the ballot question remained steady. "We've got comfortably in excess of 50 votes, and that's unchanged," he said.
Gay marriage supporters were trying to kill the proposed amendment by forcing Thursday's constitutional convention — a joint meeting of the state House and Senate — to recess without taking action on the proposal.
A vote to recess indicates lawmakers intend to reconvene the convention before year's end, though it was not immediately clear if they would be required to do so. Adjournment would end the convention and kill the amendment.
In 2002, former Senate President Thomas Birmingham adjourned the convention before a vote. Senate President Robert Travaglini has said he intended to bring the question to debate and resolution, but on Wednesday told The Boston Globe he would entertain a motion by lawmakers to adjourn or recess before voting on the amendment.
Gay marriage supporters have said Romney, who decided not to seek re-election as he considers running for president, could try to force a vote by reconvening the convention. On Thursday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom refused to comment, other than to refer to a statement released Wednesday in which Romney called on the Legislature to vote on the question.
On Wednesday, Patrick reiterated his support for the high court's ruling but said he didn't plan to lobby lawmakers on the proposed ballot measure.
"The Deval election result is wonderful, but it's not clear, unfortunately, that it will affect the vote," Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus said Wednesday.
Isaacson said the favorable local election results were tempered nationally by a string of defeats for gay-marriage supporters. Amendments to ban gay marriage passed in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Only Arizona defeated such an amendment.