Gay rights supporters were euphoric today after the Massachusetts legislature defeated an amendment to define marriage as a union of a man and woman.
"In Massachusetts today the freedom to marry is secure," said Gov. Deval Patrick, who lobbied state lawmakers to defeat the measure. Opponents of same-sex marriage fell five votes short of the 50 votes needed to put the issue before voters in 2008.
"This question has been fully vetted," said Terry Murray, president of the Massachusetts senate.
In the halls of the statehouse, opponents of same-sex marriage said the matter would not be decided until it was put before a popular vote. The next chance that could happen is 2012.
While opponents vow to continue their fight, their prospects are relatively bleak, with public opinion increasingly in support of gay unions.
Before the amendment went to a vote activists on both sides were urging support for their positions.
"Citizens' right to vote and citizens' right to free speech, that's what's at stake," said one supporter of the amendment, but gay rights advocates said the issue had no place on a ballot.
"Civil rights should never go to a popular vote. That's fundamentally un-American," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
Massachusetts became the only state to legalize same-sex unions in 2003. Since then hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have wed.
Supporters of gay marriage feared voters would approve the measure, which called for an outright ban and said nothing about civil unions or other alternatives. Opponents also worry that the defeat will open more legal challenges to force gay marriage in other states.
This morning, demonstrators took positions on opposite sides of the street in front of the golden-domed statehouse.
Gay rights advocates, who doubled the anti-gay marriage crowd, chanted, "Two women, two men, Massachusetts says we can." They also held signs that read, "Wrong to Vote on Rights." Those against same-sex marriage chanted, "Let the people vote."
On the side against same-sex marriage, a sign read, "God created man and woman, this is against nature, you'll perish."
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin of Temple Israel in Boston said, "It makes no sense if God stands for love and compassion to use God as a weapon. It is insulting."
Despite the apparent vitriol, for now Massachusetts remains the only state where same-sex marriages are legal.