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Archive for Wednesday, May 5, 2004

House rejects proposed marriage amendment

May 5, 2004

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— A proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage failed to win enough House support to submit it to voters, and supporters promised the measure would be an issue in legislative races later this year.

The vote was 79-45 -- five favorable votes fewer than the two-thirds majority needed to approve a proposed change in the Kansas Constitution. The Senate adopted the proposal Saturday on a 27-13 vote.

The proposal would have added a statement to the Kansas Constitution that Kansas recognizes marriage only between one man and one woman. It also would have denied legal benefits associated with marriage to other domestic arrangements, such as civil unions.

Some proponents of the amendment refused to give up on seeking another House vote before the Legislature concludes the wrap-up session, although they acknowledged chances were not good.

However, others were looking ahead to this year's elections, when all 40 Senate and 125 House seats will be filled.

"I would say it's dead," House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said following the vote. "The people who voted no will have to live with that."

The Rev. Joe Wright, senior pastor at Wichita's Central Christian Church, said he and other clergy who supported the proposed amendment hope to register 100,000 new voters this year.

"This is a conservative state," Wright said at a news conference after the vote. "I can't even believe we're debating this issue."

In March, the House adopted a different version of the amendment on an 88-36 vote, but some members switched their votes Tuesday.

The proposed amendment, which would have gone to a statewide vote in November, stated:

"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 declaring the state's policy of recognizing marriage only as the union of one man and one woman.

Some legislators believe the statute makes the amendment unnecessary, but others say putting the policy into the Kansas Constitution would keep it from being revised by a court or future Legislature.

Proponents also said the state should continue to elevate traditional marriages above other relationships, arguing that traditional marriages form the strongest families and the foundation of American society.

"We either care about marriage or we don't," said Rep. Dan Williams, R-Olathe, who presented the proposed amendment to the House. "It's that simple."

Opponents contended the measure would invite a court challenge and would enshrine discrimination in the Kansas Constitution.

"I've come to conclusion that what we're doing something that's not very nice," said Rep. Rick Rehorn, D-Kansas City. "I'm asking this body to be kind today and stop this amendment, so we can begin to heal the wounds we've created."

Ten House members who had voted for a slightly different version of the amendment in March voted against the latest version Tuesday, while one -- Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City -- made the opposite switch and voted with the majority Tuesday.

Winn said she changed her vote to be consistent with her view that important issues -- such as gambling -- should be decided by voters.

Rep. Josh Svaty, D-Ellsworth, was among the 10 who changed sides since March and voted in opposition Tuesday.

Svaty said he had become concerned that passing the measure would tell churches that their teachings were invalid unless they were adopted by state government. He said supporters of the amendment should be meeting gays and lesbians, "showing Christian love and praying that the Holy Spirit will act."

Others who switched their votes said they believed that the proposal considered Tuesday was too broad.

House leaders had expected the vote to be close and had postponed it one day so that two supporters who were out of state Monday -- including Williams -- could return to the Statehouse.

In other action, negotiators agreed to a $66 million plan to increase school funding, with debate expected Wednesday.

Also, a bill offering some illegal immigrants a tuition break at public colleges and universities won final approval and went to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who plans to sign it.

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