Opponents of gay marriage pack Louisiana capitol
Louisiana lawmakers entering the politically charged debate over gay marriage got a preview of the upcoming state senate and house debates as religious leaders and regular citizens packed a meeting room of the state capitol to support bills that would place Louisiana's ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.
The first hearing on a gay marriage bill was set for Tuesday, a day after Willie Wooten, a New Orleans minister, called on members of Louisiana's Legislative Black Caucus to support the ban, saying same-sex couples were "jumping on the bandwagon" of the civil rights movement but that the two were not linked. "Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. It is both a religious and social contract, and it has served civilization for over 6,000 years as a primary basis for stability, security, health, and well-being," Wooten on Monday told about 250 people who filled up one room and poured out into the hall.
State law has long held that people of the same sex cannot marry, and Louisiana does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. A proposal by Sen. John Hainkel (R-New Orleans), scheduled for discussion Tuesday in a senate committee, would amend the state constitution to ban recognition of gay marriages contracted in other states.
A proposal by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Metairie), scheduled for discussion a week later in a house committee, would amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. President Bush has proposed similar language for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. At least two other lawmakers have filed similar measures.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has condemned the proposals as mean-spirited, saying they would deny same-sex couples the same rights that other Americans have.
Bill Shanks, pastor of the New Covenant Fellowship in Kenner, said the legalization and sanctioning of same-sex marriages could lead to a present-day Sodom and Gomorrah, cities whose destruction was described in the Bible as punishment for the people's sinfulness, according to the pastor. "One Category 5 hurricane coming up the river will take care of all sodomite marriages," Shanks said. "I believe this will open the floodgate for God to bring judgment on our land."
Gay rights activists say a ban on same-sex marriages is discrimination.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of the Louisiana legislature before going directly to the people for a vote; the governor does not have to sign such measures. A similar attempt in the Louisiana legislature has failed before. A 1997 attempt by then-senator Phil Short to get a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution died on the senate floor. The proposed bills are filed as Senate Bill 166 and House Bill 61 and can be found at www.legis.state.la.us.