A proposal that would let South Dakota voters decide if a prohibition on same-sex marriage should be locked in the state constitution is just one vote away from the 2006 ballot. The senate state affairs committee approved the measure 5-4 Friday, sending it to the full senate.
Although state law already forbids same-sex marriages in South Dakota, many legislators feel placing the same prohibition in the constitution would make the law more tamperproof; only voters can change the constitution.
Supporters say it is a widely accepted view that traditional marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of society. Opponents said the proposed constitutional amendment is discriminatory and violates the civil rights of gay couples by not treating them the same as heterosexual couples.
HJR 1001, the proposed ballot measure, was passed earlier by the house. The full senate could vote on it as early as Monday. Senate approval would automatically position it for a place on the ballot. Unlike bills that are passed by the legislature, proposed constitutional amendments are in the form of resolutions and do not require the governor's signature.
The first sentence of the two-sentence measure reads: "Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in South Dakota." The measure is sponsored by 55 of South Dakota's 70 house members and 23 of the 35 senate members.
Despite that support, some legislators are not entirely sold on the second sentence of the proposal. Sponsors said that sentence is designed to make sure that South Dakota does not have to recognize same-sex marriages by any other name in other states.
Among those troubled by the language, which refers to civil unions, domestic partnerships, and quasi-marital relationships, is Republican senator Eric Bogue. Bogue said he supports the effort to ban same-sex marriages but wonders if the meaning of the second sentence is clear. On the other hand, he noted that many ballot issues in the past have been poorly worded or were ill-advised, and voters still were given the choice to decide those issues. "The people ultimately will decide whether this is the appropriate measure to put in our constitution or not," Bogue said before voting for the proposal. "I trust the people, in the end, will make the right decision."
Republican senator Ed Olson voted against sending HJR 1001 to the full senate. He noted that same-sex marriage already is against the law in South Dakota. Those who feel strongly about it should instead collect signatures to get the measure on the ballot, he said. "If the public feels so compelled that they need to do this, then I think they should do the initiative process," Olson said. (AP)