Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Clock Ticking for Reilly

Sometime today, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Reilly is due to announce his decision whether or not to certify a ballot question that would end equal marriage in Massachusetts. Unlike the measure that is up before the legislature one week from today, this would not simultaneously create civil unions as a consolation prize. If certified, anti-marriage activists would have to gather enough signatures to get the measure before the legislature where it would need to be approved by only 25% of the body at two consecutive Constitutional Conventions (presumably one in 2006 and one in 2007), a hurdle it is likely to clear given the low standard of entry. At that point it would be on the ballot in 2008, four and a half years after the first same-sex marriage was performed in Massachusetts.

The decision not to certify should be a slam dunk given that the state Constitution forbids ballot questions that are intended to reverse judicial rulings. However, Reilly's delay is leaving him open to charges that his decision will be politically motivated, as Eileen McNamara does in her Boston Globe column today. Here's an excerpt:

By waiting until the last minute to rule on this misguided ballot initiative, the putative Democratic gubernatorial candidate has only reinforced suspicion that he is preoccupied with questions of politics, not of law. It is a suspicion Reilly cannot afford in the face of a credible challenge for the nomination from Deval L. Patrick, a former assistant US attorney who has been unequivocal in his support for equal civil rights for gay people.

Reilly has spent a fair chunk of his career in public life battling the perception that he is less motivated by legal conviction than by political self-interest.
In contrast to McNamara's view, however, last month the Springfield Republican noted that Reilly "can successfully separate his duties as the state's top legal officer from politics." Of course, no matter what he finally decides, he will be open to criticism from those who disagree with his decision. Supporters of the anti-marriage referendum will claim that he's trying to appeal to Democratic primary voters if he rejects it, and opponents will conversely claim he's trying to pander to social conservatives should he approve it. Since Reilly is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, it only makes sense that he should do what the law demands.