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Senate panel backs US gay marriage ban
Thursday, May 18, 2006
A Senate panel approved a controversial proposal to write a gay marriage ban into the US Constitution.
The proposed amendment will go to the full Senate on June 5 for what is expected to be a heated debate on a ban backed by President George W. Bush.
"The American people support protecting traditional marriage, and we should give this amendment due consideration through the full legislative process," Republican Senator Sam Brownback said.
"We must continue to fight for the protection of traditional marriage."
The proposed constitutional amendment faces an uphill battle as it must be passed by two-thirds of senators, two-thirds of representatives in the House and then approved by two-thirds of the 50 US states.
However, the numbers of legislators, both for and against gay marriage, who say the matter is better left to the individual states, are too many to allow passage.
A previous attempt failed in Congress in 2004.
The measure was approved Thursday by all Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy called the the proposal right-wing demagoguery. His colleague Russ Feingold called it a maneuver by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to mobilize the religious right prior to November legislative elections, which look increasingly difficult for Republicans, now that Bush's approval rating has withered.
A poll released in March showed 51 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage, down from a high of 63 percent in 2004.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, a group defending gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, 18 states have adopted amendments to their own constitutions specifically defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman and 27 others have laws to that effect.
Gays say that without marriage they lose important rights such as inheritance of property, immigration, adoption or making medical decisions for an ill or disabled partner.
Vermont and Connecticut allow same-sex couples to join in civil unions, which grant many of the rights of marriage.
Only one state, Massachusetts, now allows same-sex marriages, based on a decision handed down by its supreme court.
"I'm not prepared to surrender to the courts," said Republican Senator Wayne Allard, backer of the constitutional amendment. He said that a Senate debate was necessary to advance the cause of stopping gay marriage.
"It's important to move the issue forward," he said.
In Maryland, which borders Washington, a judge found in January that local law prohibiting gay marriage was unconstitutional.
The legality of same-sex marriage is also before courts in the states of Nebraska, California, New Jersey, New York and Washington.
Senate panel OKs gay-marriage ban
By Andy Sullivan
Thu May 18, 2:55 PM ET
A U.S. Senate panel advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday as the committee chairman shouted "good riddance" to a Democrat who walked out of the tense session.
"If you want to leave, good riddance," The Senate Judiciary Chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, told Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, who refused to participate because, he said, the meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.
"I've enjoyed your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman," Feingold told the Pennsylvania senator before storming out of the private room where the meeting took place.
The testy exchange highlighted tensions over the proposal, which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The measure passed 10-8 on a party-line vote. Specter said he voted for the amendment because he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate, even though he does not back it.
The gay-marriage ban is one of several hot-button social issues Republicans are raising to rally conservative voters ahead of November's congressional elections.
Because the measure seeks to change the Constitution, it must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority and then be approved by at least 38 states.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill in early June.
The bill's sponsor told reporters he does not expect it to pass the Senate but wanted to keep the issue in the public eye.
"If we quit bringing it up here and talking about it here, in effect we leave the decision-making process to the judicial side," Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard (news, bio, voting record) said.
A similar effort failed in the Senate in 2004.
Gay marriage has been a hot topic since a Massachusetts court ruled in 2003 that the state legislature could not ban it, paving the way for America's first same-sex marriages in May the following year.
At least 13 states have passed amendments banning gay marriage while two -- Vermont and Connecticut -- have legalized civil unions. California, New Jersey, Maine, the District of Columbia and Hawaii each offer gay couples some legal rights as partners.
Legal challenges seeking permission for gays and lesbians to marry are pending in 10 states. Most recently, a Georgia state court struck down a state ban on Tuesday.
Just over half of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, according to a March poll by the Pew Research center, down from 63 percent in February 2004.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), the committee's top Democrat, said the gay marriage ban was a waste of time for a committee that needs to tackle a wide range of other pressing issues, from judicial nominations to oversight of the National Security Administration's domestic-spying program.
"I didn't realize marriages were so threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years," Leahy said.
Leahy said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record), who supports the ban, has expressed support for polygamists in his home state of Utah.
"I never said that," Hatch responded. "I know some (polygamists) that are very sincere. ... Don't accuse me of wanting to have polygamy."