updated 7/12/2006 6:24:14 PM ET 2006-07-12T22:24:14

Massachusetts lawmakers ended debate on proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday before dealing with the most volatile issue on their agenda: a proposal to outlaw gay marriage in the only state where it is legal.

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The move to recess until Nov. 9 put off the decision on the politically charged issue until after the general election.

Senate President Robert Travaglini had said he intended to bring all 20 proposed amendments to a vote, but had warned lawmakers might not be able to get to every proposed amendment on Wednesday.

The goal of the gay marriage amendment, which supporters hope to put on the 2008 ballot, would be to block future gay marriages in Massachusetts. More than 8,000 same-sex couples have taken vows since gay marriages began in May 2004.

Volatile issue
To get on the ballot, the question must twice win the backing of 25 percent - or 50 - of the state's 200 lawmakers: once during the current session and again during the session starting in January. Opponents of gay marriage have said they are confident they have the votes they need in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Crowds of gay marriage supporters and foes packed the balcony of the House chamber. Hundreds on both sides of the debate also rallied outside the Statehouse, holding signs, waving banners, singing and urging passing motorists to honk in support of their cause.

"I think this is an issue for the people to decide," said Jonathan Gal, 39, of Lexington, wearing a sticker that read "Support One Man, One Woman." "I don't like the way this is being imposed on us by a small minority - the courts and the Legislature."

Across the street, supporters of same-sex unions cast the issue as one of civil rights.

"When does civil rights get put on the ballot for everyone to vote on?" said Jim Singletary, 44, of Salem, who last year married his longtime partner, Jim Maynard.

"This is for fairness for my family," Maynard said.

Recent efforts
The debate came less than a week after New York's highest court rejected same-sex couples' bid to win marriage rights and Georgia's high court reinstated that state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Gay marriage opponents in Massachusetts got a boost Monday from the Supreme Judicial Court, the same court that handed down the historic ruling legalizing gay marriage.

The court ruled that the proposed amendment could go forward, provided it clear the remaining legislative hurdles. Gay marriage supporters had sued to block the question.

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