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Archive for Monday, May 3, 2004

House delays vote on gay marriage ban until Tuesday

May 3, 2004

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— Left for dead a month ago, a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage faces only one legislative hurdle to getting on the November ballot.

But that hurdle -- a House vote -- could prove to be a big one.

Supporters and opponents alike attribute the measure's resurrection to pressure from conservative clergy and other Kansans who view the proposed addition to the Kansas Constitution as an important moral statement, as well as a policy issue.

The proposed amendment states that Kansas recognizes marriage only between one man and one woman and denies the benefits of marriage to other domestic arrangements, such as same-sex civil unions.

The Senate adopted the measure Saturday on a 27-13 vote, the two-thirds majority necessary for approval of a constitutional change.

The House planned to vote Tuesday on the proposed amendment. The vote originally was set for Monday, but two supporters, Reps. Dan Williams, R-Olathe, and Larry Powell, R-Kalvesta, were out of state on personal business. Postponing action suggested the vote would be close.

The House adopted a similar proposal earlier this session, but in late March, senators rejected a narrower version of the amendment, containing only the gay marriage ban. During his chamber's two-hour debate Saturday, Sen. Bob Lyon thanked clergy and their parishioners for reviving the broader proposal.

"I believe I really see evidence of a sleeping giant being awakened in this state, and I rejoice in that," said Lyon, R-Winchester. "I remain unabashedly committed to restoring a biblical foundation for this state."

But some opponents argued that Lyon and other backers of the amendment wanted to impose their religious views on the state -- and write discrimination against gays and lesbians into the constitution.

"I care about it because I think it strikes at the very nature of freedom," said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, the only senator to have publicly declared support for gay marriage. "I just think Kansas is better than this."

The proposed amendment says:

"The marriage contract is to be considered in law as a civil contract. Marriage shall be constituted by one man and one woman only. All other marriages are declared to be contrary to the public policy of this state and are void.

"No relationship other than a marriage shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage."

Kansas already has a statute on its books declaring the state's policy of recognizing marriage only as the union of one man and one woman. However, some legislators believe the policy also should be written into the Kansas Constitution, making it harder for a court or future Legislature to revise the policy.

After the Senate's action in March, advocates of banning gay marriage and civil unions suggested they might let the issue play out in legislative elections later this year rather than try again to get a proposed amendment on the ballot.

But legislators said they received dozens of e-mails about the issue before their wrap-up session began last week. The pressure prompted leaders to appoint three senators and three House members to draft a new proposal.

The Rev. Terry Fox, senior pastor at Wichita's Immanuel Baptist Church, said the issue still will be important in elections and that he and other clergy intend to register thousands of new voters. He said denominations like his are working with other Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church.

"The Body of Christ is going to vote this fall," he said. "We've suspended our differences on theology to come together on cultural issues."

Even as senators acknowledged the pressure to support the proposal, some said Saturday the amendment is unnecessary because of the state's existing marriage law.

"If this one vote will cost me my re-election, I can guarantee you I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, because I know that by casting a vote against this constitutional amendment, I'm doing the right thing," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

On other issues:

-- Senators and House members still disagreed over whether the state should raise taxes to benefit public schools.

-- Legislation strengthening the Kansas Open Records Act was close to going to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

-- Budget negotiators were deadlocked over a proposal to grant illegal immigrants a one-year break on tuition at public colleges and universities.

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