South Dakota voters should not be asked to decide if a prohibition against same-sex marriage should be added to the state constitution, the senate state affairs committee was told Wednesday. A measure that would put the issue on the 2006 fall ballot was considered briefly but set aside for a later vote after one of the sponsors said it needs more work.
Republican senator John Koskan of Wood, a prime sponsor of the measure, said he believes 17 states already have a law banning same-sex marriage and about 15 others also are considering measures to place it in their constitutions. Traditional marriages and two-parent families are the foundation of society, and the proposal is designed to protect that foundation, he said. "You do need a man and a woman as role models when you're growing up to know how to interact as you're going through life," Koskan said. "When you do not have that model, you're going to have problems."
Testimony of out-of-town opponents was taken Wednesday, but testimony from most other supporters was delayed until the next hearing on the proposal. Supporters of the proposal conceded in an earlier house hearing that state law already defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman, but they said courts in other states have ruled differently. Placing a gay marriage ban in the state constitution would protect traditional marriages in South Dakota, supporters said.
Opponents, however, said such an amendment would discriminate against gays and lesbians and could interfere with legal contracts between them, casting doubt on such things as ownership of property, medical decisions, and inheritances. Elsie Gauley Vega of Spearfish said HJR1001, the resolution harboring the proposed ballot measure, should be killed. A ban on gay marriage would wrongfully limit the rights of some people, she said. "A constitution is to protect the rights of all," Vega said. "Two adults who love each other should have a right to marry."
The Reverend Steve Miller of Vermillion also testified against HJR1001. He said many gays already feel isolated and unwelcome. "I don't believe it is respectful," Miller said. "This bill continues to push a sense that gay and lesbian people are second-class citizens." HJR1001 was approved earlier by the house and is nearly certain to be placed on the ballot. Fifty-five of South Dakota's 70 house members and 23 of the 35 senate members are listed as sponsors. (AP)