The Massachusetts legislature yesterday voted down a discriminatory constitutional amendment that would have halted marriage equality in the state.

The vote, which came amid heavy pressure to kill the measure from Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders, was a devastating blow to efforts to reverse a historic 2003 court ruling legalising same-sex marriage.

“Democrats in Massachusetts overwhelmingly recognise that every family is strengthened when the legal responsibilities of civil marriage are extended to all couples,” wrote Jo Wyrick, executive director National Stonewall Democrats.

“These legal obligations serve society by protecting children, stabilising homes and securing relationships. We are proud that Democrats in Massachusetts fully support values which protect families in the Bay State.”

The ban needed 50 votes in consecutive sessions of the 200-seat Legislature to secure a place on the 2008 statewide ballot.

At the end of the last session in January it passed with 62 votes, but this time it garnered just 45.

“The fact that opponents of marriage equality couldn’t muster the support of even 50 out of 200 legislators is a clear sign that the people of Massachusetts have embraced marriage equality.

“They are leading America toward full equality,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas in a media statement.

With political support for gay marriage growing stronger, such a scenario appeared increasingly unlikely, but opponents of gay marriage vowed to press on.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute that backed the amendment, questioned the legality of what he said was rampant horse trading in the final hours, saying to the Associated Press that there was “tremendous pressure and we believe some tremendous incentives” to flip votes.

Same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts since it became legal in May 2004.

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