A proposal to amend the Georgia constitution to ban same-sex marriage won't come to a vote this week in the Georgia house, party leaders decided Monday amid growing protests from gay rights activists. About two dozen pastors and rabbis visited lawmakers to plead for a delay on the measure, which would allow voters this fall to change the constitution to ban gay marriage. The GOP-led senate has already approved the amendment, but not the Democrat-controlled house. "People of faith want to protect the civil rights of citizens," said Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta.
The clergymen--mostly from independent Christian churches--cheered after the house rules committee decided not to vote on the amendment, as some expected. Rules chairman Calvin Smyre said he wanted to focus instead on reapportionment and a midyear budget. But Smyre said his committee would eventually take up the marriage amendment. Even though Democrats control the chamber, many of them support the ban. "We're not trying to stall it," Smyre said.
Meanwhile, the legislature's only openly gay member was planning a last-ditch campaign to stop the amendment. Rep. Karla Lea Drenner said she would beg her colleagues not to approve the amendment in a closed-door caucus meeting Monday afternoon. Drenner's speech could be pivotal in the gay marriage debate. The lesbian lawmaker, the first elected in Georgia, seldom talks about her sexual orientation and has never complained that she's treated poorly.
But Monday morning, Drenner tearfully told the clergymen and fellow gay activists that she has been snubbed by colleagues and will demand the floor at the caucus meeting. "They turn their back on you, and they look at you like you're some scourge of God," Drenner said, crying so hard she had trouble talking. "People wouldn't ride elevators with me. But I love them. Even if they wouldn't give me a drink of water if I was thirsty, I love them."
Democratic leaders wouldn't say whether they'd allow Drenner to speak at the caucus meeting. So far the party hasn't taken a position on the amendment. For the gay marriage ban to advance, the house rules committee would first have to approve it by majority and send it to the house general calendar. The rules committee would then have to schedule it for a floor vote, where a two-thirds vote would be required to approve a constitutional amendment. If approved by Gov. Sonny Perdue, the proposed amendment would then go to Georgia voters this fall, where a majority vote would be needed for adoption.