State GOP Committee votes for motion directing Republican lawmakers to support marriage amendment
The Mass. Republican State Committee voted May 24 to instruct Party Chairman Peter Torkildsen to send a written request that Republican state legislators vote in favor of an anti-gay marriage amendment. Debate around the vote exposed a divide on the committee on the issue of civil marriage rights for same-sex couples
The motion was put forth by Eamon Fennessy, a state committee member from Beverly toward the end of the meeting, according to state committee members who spoke with Bay Windows. It passed on a voice vote. Mass. GOP Executive Director Brian Dodge said that the letter is being drafted.
The legislature is expected to take a second and final vote on the amendment at a June 14 constitutional convention. It needs the support of just 50 legislators in order to be placed on the 2008 ballot.
Dodge noted that anyone who witnessed debate on the motion saw “that there were some divisions within the state committee on this issue.” Though the vote came down in favor of having Torkildsen send the letter, said Dodge, “it certainly wasn’t unanimous.”
Haverhill City Councilor Bill Ryan, a state committee member of 12 years, opposed the motion. “I’m hopeful that our legislative leaders in the House and the Senate, Rep. [Bradley] Jones and Sen. [Richard] Tisei will ignore this,” said Ryan. “When they get the resolution it should be discarded immediately. It belongs in the rubbish.” Both Bradley and Tisei are opposed to the amendment.
“I think it’s inappropriate for us to get involved with that issue,” said another state committee member who spoke on condition of anonymity. The member also noted that within the committee there were some “who were happy with [the outcome of the vote] and some folks who weren’t.”
Fennessy did not respond to a voice mail request to comment on his proposal. The motion was offered verbally, according to the committee member who did not wish to be identified. Minutes of the meeting are not yet available; but will contain a record of what we voted on, the member said.
The motion to draft the letter comes as the state GOP attempts to rebuild after the losses of last November’s elections, when it lost control of the governor’s office after 16 years and saw its legislative caucus shrink to just 24 members. Many have blamed the state Republican Party’s increased focus on hot-button social issues such as same-sex marriage, stem cell research and illegal immigration during the tenure of former Gov. Mitt Romney for its electoral woes. Tisei and Jones, for instance, have strongly advocated a return to focusing on more traditional Republican pocketbook issues, public safety and the environment. The election of Torkildsen — a reliable supporter of gay rights during his tenure in Congress in the 1990s — as party chair was viewed as a sign that the state GOP was poised for a shift back to its tradition of fiscal conservatism and moderate social stances.
Ryan, a former Haverhill mayor, suggested that the motion does nothing to help the Party’s rebuilding effort. “I think it hurts the Republican Party. The people who are supporting it don’t run for office,” he observed, “and they’re doing more to make Republicans unelectable by engaging them in these social issues.”
Ryan added that he’s a strong supporter of gay rights and does not want to see the issue go on the ballot. “I’m hoping that my vote no will at least send a message … to people that may feel offended by this vote, they’ll [know] it isn’t everybody. It’s a few extremists in the party that have no problem taking away people’s rights.”
Unlike the state Democratic Party, which voted to endorse marriage equality in 2005, the state GOP does not have an official position on the issue. In addition to Jones and Tisei, there are currently only two other pro-equality Republicans in the legislature: Rep. Brad Hill and Sen. Bruce Tarr.
Dodge is uncertain about where Torkildsen stands on the issue. “But he’s said time and again that his job here as chairman of the Party is to support candidates … there’s no litmus test on the issue,” he said.
So how does Torkildsen feel about writing the letter? Bay Windows was unable to reach him. But Dodge, speaking for the state GOP, said: “The body voted on this and … we adhere to the voice of body and the body did choose to send this letter. So we’ll draft something up and we’ll send it off shortly.”
While that hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement of Fennessy’s motion, it’s nonetheless disappointing to Michael Motzkin, an openly gay man who is active in state Republican politics. “We hear from the Party and from the new chairman that they want to be inclusive and something like this goes through the membership of the state committee,” said Motzkin, who waged an unsuccessful campaign for state representative against Democrat Mark Falzone in 2004. “I hoped that we were past this by now.”
Issue Date: 5/31/2007, Posted On: 6/1/2007