The Massachusetts Senate will vote this week on amending the state’s constitution to ban gay marriages, after the same court sanctioned same-sex marriage last November, AP reported.

The amendment was put forward after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that a proposed compromise civil union bill for same-sex couples was insufficient and that only gay marriage rights would be acceptable, The Advocate reported.

If the amendment banning gay marriage is supported this week, the law will be presented to voters in a referendum in 2006. Until this time, gay marriages would be deemed legal in Massachusetts from 17 May.

Supporters and opponents of the amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman have converged on Massachusetts in their thousands, AP reported.

The debate has broader political implications, with US president George W. Bush announcing in a written statement he would do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage. Despite this, Bush has yet to implement a national constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Senator John Kerry, the frontrunner in the Democrat presidential nominations, announced in November he believed the initial ruling in support of gay marriage was wrong. In a press release Kerry stated that he opposed gay marriage, but that he had long believed that gay men and lesbians should be assured equal protection and the same benefits -“ from health to survivor benefits to hospital visitation -“ that all families deserve.

If gay marriage remains on the books after this week, it cannot be overturned at a federal level and offers a potential legal challenge to the 1996 national Defence of Marriage Act, which allows states to discriminate legally against same-sex married couples.

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