A gay rights legal organisation today challenged a ruling that allowed a petition drive for a constitutional amendment that would end same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly “simply got it wrong” in September when he certified VoteOnMarriage’s marriage amendment for a petition drive, said Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay Lesbian Advocates Defenders (GLAD), which filed its lawsuit before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Article 48 of the state constitution says citizens cannot use constitutional amendments to reverse judicial decisions. The sole purpose of the marriage amendment, Mr Buseck said, is to reverse the court’s 2003 decision to legalise same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

The marriage amendment anti-gay activists are now pushing for would allow marriages only between one man and one woman.

Johanna Schulman, president of GLAD’s board of directors, is listed as the case’s plaintiff. Mr Reilly and William F. Galvin, secretary of the state, are named as defendants.

GLAD will ask the court to find that Mr Reilly erred when he certified the amendment for a signature drive. It also asks the court to block Mr Galvin from taking any “further steps” to get the proposal on a ballot.

Earlier this year, backers of the VoteOnMarriage amendment collected about 170,000 signatures, roughly twice the number needed.

Galvin certified more than 123,000 signatures in December. The amendment must now be approved twice by politicians before it can go before voters in November 2008. If the amendment is passed, backers say, it would not nullify existing same-sex marriages.

More than 6,500 same-sex couples have “married” since the earlier decision came into effect in May 2004.

A spokesman for Mr Reilly said yesterday that although the attorney general doesn’t support the marriage amendment personally, he thinks that allowing it to proceed was the right decision.

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