Archive for Friday, March 5, 2004

Gay marriage ban faces House vote

Statehouse amendment passes initial test

March 5, 2004


— A politically explosive constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Kansas faces an uncertain fate today.

The proposed amendment cleared the Kansas House on an unrecorded voice vote Thursday, but with less support than some had expected in the Republican-dominated chamber.

The amendment can't leave the House for Senate consideration unless it gains 84 votes in final action set for today.

"I think the votes will be there," for final approval, House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said.

But some of the amendment's other supporters weren't so sure.

"At this point, I wouldn't bet the ranch that it's going to pass," said Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend.

On an 84-35 vote, the House rejected an attempt to rewrite the amendment as a resolution expressing support for traditional marriage and Vermont-style civil unions for same-sex couples.

Edmonds interpreted the 35 votes for that failed effort as representing opposition to the constitutional amendment and said the vote surprised him.

Proposals to amend the state constitution require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate before being placed before voters for consideration. That would require 84 votes in the 125-member House and 27 in the 40-member Senate.

On Thursday, the House debated for about 75 minutes the proposed amendment that would permit marriage only between a man and a woman and declare all other marriages are "contrary to the public policy of this state and are void."

State law already says marriages in Kansas can only be between a man and a woman, but supporters of the proposed amendment say the rule needs to be embedded in the state constitution to protect marriage from court decisions that say same-sex marriages must be recognized.

The issue has been in the national news after a Massachusetts court ruled that state couldn't ban gay couples from marrying. Officials in several cities have allowed gay marriages, while President Bush has called for a federal constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

"Let the people of Kansas have the right to vote on this," said Rep. Dan Williams, R-Olathe.

Singled out?

Rep. Thomas "Tim" Owens, R-Overland Park, tried to replace the proposed constitutional amendment with a resolution that would have allowed civil unions between gay partners and stated that marriage was a religious institution.

Speaking against the ban on gay marriages, Owens asked, "What group is going to be next singled out to be excluded by a constitutional amendment?"

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, criticized Owens' proposal, saying that men "fight and die" to preserve the family values of marriage between a man and a woman.

OregonIn Portland, a line of at least 100 hopefuls snaked around a building as Multnomah County handed out licenses to gay couples for a second day.It is not clear how long the licenses will be available. Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski has warned the marriages may not be legal and requested a legal opinion from the attorney general.New YorkAbout three dozen same-sex couples asked for licenses Thursday in New York City and were turned down.New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer said in an opinion Wednesday that his state's laws prohibit gay marriages.Still, gay couples began lining up outside the city clerk's office two hours before it opened. They were handed a 50-page rejection letter that included the state and city's legal opinions and offered information about domestic partnership options.About 300 gay and lesbian demonstrators held signs and chanted: "It's about equality!"ChicagoAn estimated 350 demonstrated Thursday outside the Cook County administration building. Dozens of same-sex couples went inside to demand marriage licenses, but were handed a letter explaining that to do so would violate Illinois law.The rally became rowdy when protesters sat down in the street, blocking a bus.

But Owens said he fought in Vietnam to expand freedoms of Americans.

Rep. Jan Scoggins-Waite, D-Dodge City, voted for Owens' proposal, saying her oldest son was gay. She said he had three degrees and worked as a vice president at Universal Studios, yet "my family is not given the right to see him have a civil union with the one he loves."

Her speech drew applause from gay rights supporters in the gallery who were quickly hushed by sergeants-at-arms.

Owens' proposal was defeated 84-35. Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, all voted for Owens' measure. Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, voted against it.

Other proposals

Another proposed change would have moved the election on the amendment from the November general election to the August primaries. But Rep. Kathe Decker, R-Clay Center, said putting it on the November ballot helped conservative Republicans by increasing turnout of supporters of the amendment. An effort to move the public vote to August failed 43-74.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she doubted the state needed to pass an amendment against gay marriages because current law says marriage must be between a man and a woman.

"I'm not sure we need to take action in this state to deal with other state activities," she said. "We have a law and no one has suggested that the law is going to be violated anytime soon or not followed.

"If we are talking about constitutions," Sebelius said, "I'd like (legislators) to pay attention to the constitutional ruling of the judge on education and not worry about some other constitutional issues that may or not ever come up in Kansas," she said.

Kansas is among 34 states with laws against gay marriages, but legislators in at least 15 of them are considering constitutional changes. Four states already have constitutional provisions against same-sex marriages -- Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada.

Local officials in California, New Mexico, New York and Oregon recently have granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Of those states, only California has a law against same-sex marriages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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