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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

Gay marriage ban advances; debate scheduled

January 28, 2005

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— House debate is expected early next week on a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, following a committee's endorsement of the measure.

The Federal and State Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on voice vote Thursday after two days of hearings. The measure also prohibits civil unions for gay couples and declares that the state recognizes only traditionally married couples as entitled to "rights and incidents" of marriage.

Supporters hope legislators adopt the proposed amendment by Feb. 11, so that it will go on the ballot April 5, when Kansas also holds city and school board elections.

Speaker Doug Mays said the House will debate the amendment Tuesday and vote Wednesday. He doesn't expect any changes to the version endorsed by the committee, which is the same version adopted by the Senate on Jan. 13.

"I don't believe the votes are there to change anything in it," said Mays, R-Topeka, a supporter of the ban.

Rep. Barbara Craft, R-Junction City, proposed removing the language about civil unions. Her motion failed on a voice vote.

"I don't think we should be putting discriminatory language in the constitution," Craft said.

If the House adopts the measure without making any changes, it will go on the April ballot. Adoption requires a two-thirds majority, or 84 of 125 House votes.

Supporters argue the amendment will protect the state's current, traditional definition of marriage -- in law since 1867 -- from legal challenges.

"It doesn't take any rights away from homosexuals," said the Rev. Terry Fox, senior pastor at Wichita's Immanuel Baptist Church. "It allows democracy to work. It allows the people to weigh in on a moral issue."

Opponents of the amendment said the outcome was predictable.

Tiffany Muller, a Topeka City Council member and lobbyist for the Kansans for Equal Justice Project, said it appeared the amendment's passage was nearly certain.

"Oh, there's always hope. It seems to be fading," Muller said after the vote.

On Thursday, four legislators who are also attorneys briefed the committee on the potential legal ramifications. Many on the committee said the presentation cleared up questions about civil unions and what action the Legislature could take in future sessions.

Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the language of the amendment would not preclude legislators from establishing benefits for homosexual or unmarried heterosexual partners -- as long as lawmakers do not set up something akin to marriage, such as civil unions.

Muller said others believe the amendment would prohibit such legislation and that the only way to challenge the state for rights and benefits would be through the courts. She and others also argue the amendment could prevent private companies from offering benefits to the partners of gay employees.

"We still have the burden of overcoming the constitution," she said.

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