Archive for Thursday, December 30, 2004

Voters may decide gay marriage ban in April

December 30, 2004


— When voters go to the polls April 5 in city and school board elections, they also could be deciding one of the most politically divisive issues of the times: whether the Kansas Constitution should be changed to ban same-sex marriages.

"The possibility of an April vote is very possible," said the Rev. Terry Fox, senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church of Wichita and one of the leaders of the proposal against gay marriage.

Legislative leaders have given their word, he said, that the Legislature will deal with a gay marriage prohibition as quickly as possible when the legislative session starts Jan. 10.

"We are planning on trying to get that before the Senate and out the first couple of weeks of the session," said Senate President-elect Steve Morris, a Republican from Hugoton who supports a ban.

If adopted by two-thirds votes in the House and Senate, the proposed constitutional amendment could be on the ballot in time for the April election. A majority vote by the electorate would put the prohibition in the Kansas Constitution.

Not so fast

House Speaker Doug Mays, however, was doubtful about the quick timeline, saying it would be difficult to push the measure through the Legislature in time to make the April ballot. "That's about impossible," the Topeka Republican said.

Asked whether he had assured Fox it would happen that way, Mays said there was apparently a misunderstanding.

Some conservative Republicans have wanted to delay a statewide vote until November 2006, the date of the next statewide general election, arguing more people would vote in a general election.

But some Democrats said the delay was intended to attract more conservative Republican voters to the polls when Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius would be up for re-election.

Fox, the minister, said he didn't want to have anything to do with timing the election for political purposes.

Having an April vote, he said, "takes the politics out of this."

Already outlawed

Kansas law already prohibits same-sex marriage, but conservatives say the ban should be put in the state constitution because court decisions in other states could jeopardize the state law.

And, Fox said, the recent ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court striking down the state's death penalty showed how easily laws could be overturned.

"We don't trust the state Supreme Court at all," he said.

Even Sebelius, who opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, said that if lawmakers were going to deal with the matter, she would prefer they do it quickly.

"I'd like to get it up and out," she said, adding that the Legislature has more important issues to debate, such as education funding and health care.

Bruce Ney, a Lawrence attorney who worked to help defeat the proposal during the last legislative session, says there is no good time to consider such a measure. An April referendum would not give Kansans enough time to study the effects of the issue, he said, while a November 2006 election would simply be done "to try to unseat a Democratic governor."

"It's unfortunate, no matter when it shows up on the ballot," Ney said.

Conservative groundswell

During the last session, the proposal was supported by large majorities in both the House and Senate, but narrowly missed getting the required two-thirds vote.

But with more conservatives winning election in last month's election, Fox said, there would be enough votes in the Legislature to put the measure on the ballot.

"There are many new people, and we think many of them are there because of us," he said of conservatives.

Forrest Swall, of Lawrence, a former legislator and opponent of the ban, agreed that conservatives are "awfully close" to having enough votes to put the proposal on the ballot.

"If it goes on the ballot, it just takes a simple majority and that would be a fait accompli," he said.

Both sides plan to hold demonstrations Jan. 10, the first day of the session, at the Capitol. Fox said he had commitments from 250 pastors from across the state to rally in favor of a constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

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