BOSTON — The subject of same-sex marriage returned to the state's highest court Thursday as supporters challenged a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The Supreme Judicial Court -- the same court that legalized same-sex marriage through a landmark 2003 ruling -- heard arguments on a referendum proposed for the 2008 state ballot.
Proponents of same-sex marriage told the court that Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly should not have certified the ballot question because the state constitution bars any citizen-initiated amendment that seeks to reverse a judicial ruling.
"The people shouldn't be able to directly attack an SJC decision," said Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which filed the lawsuit.
Reilly says the proposed amendment would not reverse what is known as the Goodridge ruling and would not invalidate existing same-sex marriages. Instead, if approved by voters, it would amend the state constitution to bar future same-sex marriages, he says.
"This amendment does not put the people in the position of declaring the Goodridge decision wrong," Assistant Atty. Gen. Peter Sacks argued.
More than 7,000 same-sex couples have wed in Massachusetts since same-sex marriages were allowed beginning in May 2004.
The justices took the case under advisement. They didn't indicate when they might rule. State lawmakers might also debate the issue in a constitutional convention next week.
After the court made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, opponents saw a ballot question as their best shot at circumventing the ruling.
Reilly, a Democratic candidate for governor, initially opposed same-sex marriage, but later became a supporter.
"While the attorney general does not personally support the proposal, we are confident that letting this question proceed was the proper legal decision," Reilly spokeswoman Meredith Baumann said Thursday.
The ballot question was certified after more than 124,000 signatures were collected.
Before it can be placed on the 2008 ballot, supporters must win the votes of 25% of the Legislature in two successive sessions.