Archive for Saturday, March 19, 2005

Same-sex marriage vote on horizon

Calif. ruling adds sense of urgency to Kan. election

March 19, 2005

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— For Dan Robison, the ruling of a California trial court judge more than a thousand miles from his Wichita home means April 5 can't come soon enough.

That's the day Kansans will vote on whether to add an amendment to the state constitution outlawing same-sex marriage. It's an addition to the highest law in Kansas that he and other opponents of gay marriage argue is necessary to prevent a judge from overturning an existing state statue banning the practice.

"That's precisely what I would like to see prevented here in Kansas," Robison, a retired banker and Air Force pilot who's been married 49 years, said of the California ruling.

There are no cases pending in Kansas challenging existing state law, a fact opponents of the ban have used to argue against the constitutional amendment. But the ruling from the San Francisco superior court judge undermines that argument, while adding intensity to those made by Robison and other gay marriage opponents.

"This will be the defining issue of our time," said Julie Lynde, leader of the Cornerstone Institute, an Idaho group seeking a constitutional gay-marriage ban in that state. "No culture has survived relaxing the importance of marriage between a man and a woman."

If voters approve, Kansas would become the 18th state with a gay-marriage ban in its constitution, joining 13 others who approved bans last year. Alabama, South Dakota and Tennessee plan elections next year on similar constitutional bans, and proposals are pending in 13 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Becoming a federal issue

Several members of Congress continue to press the issue at the federal level.

The ruling from California, in which a judge said just because the state has always prohibited same-sex couples from marrying does not make the practice constitutional, is the perfect example of the need for state and federal amendments, said Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, an Indianapolis group seeking an amendment in Indiana.

"It's another example that laws are being made by judges and not legislators," Miller said.

And Alabama state Sen. Hinton Mitchem, the leading sponsor of his state's ballot initiative, said the California ruling "could not have come at a more appropriate time."

While gay rights activists see the California ruling as progress, especially since it came at the trial rather than appellate level, they admit it does so at the cost of giving gay rights opponents a potent symbol to rally behind.

"The anti-gay industry remains quite strong and does look for those opportunities to push its agenda," said David Buckel, director of marriage-related activities for the New York-based gay-rights group Lambda Legal.

But Bill Rich, a law professor at Washburn University who opposes the Kansas proposal, doubts courts in other states would issue rulings similar to the one in California, where courts have a history of saying that state's constitution offer protections in excess of those provided by the U.S. Constitution.

The strategy of adopting constitutional gay marriage bans could also backfire, Rich said, as gays and lesbians encounter problems and take states exactly where amendment supporters don't want to go -- back before a state judge for interpretation and a federal judge for a challenge.

"This is all motivated by lack of trust in the courts," he said. "On the other hand, what they appear to be doing is asking the courts to make all the difficult decisions about what it really means. I'm sure if they disagree, they'll blame the courts."

In the midst of the political strategy and legal arguments, gay and lesbian couples in Kansas continue to argue the April 5 proposal is especially oppressive. It would not only reinforce the state's long-standing definition of marriage but also declare that only unions of one man and one woman are entitled to the "rights and incidents" of marriage, effectively banning civil unions.

Echoing the debate in other states, they contend the amendment could prevent companies from providing health benefits to gay employees' partners, as well as hurt unmarried heterosexuals.

"The consequences of this are totally unknown," said Sandra Kobets, a 55-year-old Prairie Village nurse with a female partner of nearly 11 years. "Nobody has any idea where this could go."

For Robison, that's not an issue. He feels compelled to vote for the amendment because of his faith and can list more than a dozen biblical passages from memory, including 1 Corinthians 6:9, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?"

He said the Bible is both a manual for success "in this life and the next life" and is God's unchangeable word.

"He says in the Bible that homosexuality is an abomination," Robison said.

But Ann Elizabeth Bishop, a 55-year-old Sedgwick County resident who has been in a relationship with a female partner for nearly 10 years and is an Episcopalian, also has strong religious views that she said support her position.

"As Christians, what we were given were two great commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor like yourself," she said.

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