Archive for Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Senate panel forwards amendment banning same-sex marriages

March 23, 2004


— Despite what one supporter called "mental gymnastics" over a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to ban gay marriage, the Senate appears certain to debate the measure.

The amendment, which also would prohibit civil unions for same-sex couples, received the Senate Judiciary Committee's endorsement Monday. Before the panel's voice vote, Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen promised that the entire chamber would take up the proposal.

Oleen and other committee members questioned the need for the amendment, suggested it might be too broadly written and predicted it would invite action by the courts.

But supporters said the proposed amendment is straightforward. Judy Smith, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of Concerned Women for America, which supports the amendment said she was surprised by questions about the measure's meaning and scope.

"It appeared to be some mental gymnastics," she said after the committee's meeting. "Most people, they wouldn't go there."

The proposed amendment declares that marriage is the union only between one man and one woman and that no other relationship shall be recognized by the state as entitled to the benefits normally associated with marriage.

Oleen, R-Manhattan, questioned the need for the proposed amendment, noting that since statehood, Kansas has recognized only marriages between one man and one woman as valid. She said the measure is more a statement about "who we're going to exclude."

Sen. Derek Schmidt supported the measure but said he thinks legislators have not considered all possible ramifications. Because the state would amend its constitution to restrict Kansas courts, he said, federal courts may hear future lawsuits.

"I believe we will have litigation," said Schmidt, R-Independence. "We are inviting the federal courts to do what we say we don't want the state courts to do."

Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood, said the amendment may be so broad that it could, for example, prevent companies from offering health benefits to a woman that a male employee has lived with for years.

But Sen. Ed Pugh said the amendment is "pretty simple."

"I think marriage between a man and a woman is something that ought to be sanctified," said Pugh, R-Wamego. "We probably shouldn't sanctify marriages between men and men or between women and women."

The House has adopted the proposed amendment, and if the Senate adopts it by a two-thirds majority, the measure will go on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

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.

Legislative activity across the nation is a response to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declaration in November that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional in that state.

In Kansas, supporters of amending the state constitution argue they are protecting long-standing values. Pugh said American society is based on marriage "and the fact that people honor it."

But Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray described the proposed amendment as "legislating bigotry into the Kansas Constitution." He said if it is adopted and a same-sex couple wanted to get married, he would bring a legal challenge.

"This had nothing to do with law and everything to do with religion," he said after the committee's vote. "All we have to do is look at the Taliban to see that when this line is crossed, society suffers."

In other action Monday:

-- Legislation intended to prevent the cancellation of projects promised under the state's transportation program advanced in both chambers.

-- Oleen offered a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit just one large casino and four slot-machine parlors in the state.

-- The House gave first-round approval to a bill authorizing a 75 mph speed limit on four-lane divided highways where motorists currently may drive 70 mph.

-- The Senate Education Committee had a hearing on a $65 million plan from the chamber's Republicans to increase school spending partly through higher alcohol taxes.


Gay marriage ban is HCR 5033.

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