The Texas senate approved a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage Saturday, sending the issue to voters to decide.
If the amendment is approved in a statewide vote in November, Texas would join 14 states that statutorily and constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is the only state that allows such marriages, although Vermont and Connecticut have approved same-sex civil unions.
State law already prohibits same-sex marriages. This amendment would add to the constitution language defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Texas house narrowly passed the proposal last month. "I believe we should protect the institution of marriage. We should hold that up higher than any other relationship," said Republican senator Todd Staples, sponsor of the amendment.
Senate Democrats had hoped to get enough votes to block the measure from being debated on the senate floor, but three Democrats--Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, and Frank Madla of San Antonio--all voted to bring the bill up, giving supporters the critical 21-vote majority they needed. The bill ultimately passed by the same margin.
In a little more than two hours of debate, Staples rejected arguments that the amendment would discriminate against the state's estimated 43,000 same-sex couples, along with other gays and lesbians in Texas. Democratic senator Rodney Ellis equated the amendment with Jim Crow-era laws that discriminated against blacks. "At least they had the good sense to never write their bigotry into the state constitution," said Ellis, who called the amendment "trash."
Staples said he is offended by accusations the amendment is antigay. "There's a distinction between intimate associations and the right to have the government recognize or subsidize your arrangement," Staples said.
But Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said it's unfair to deny gays and lesbians the legal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, such as the ability to visit a spouse in the hospital and make medical decisions for him or her. "This amendment is potentially devastating to thousands of Texas families, gay and straight alike," he said, referring to concerns that the ban would call into question domestic-partner benefits, powers of attorney, and common law marriage among heterosexuals.
Staples said the amendment would not affect those scenarios and would not prevent same-sex couples from adopting children. The house has voted to bar gays from becoming foster parents, but that measure has received little support in the senate.
Opponents tried to badger the bill with various amendments. Each failed, as Staples insisted any changes to the bill would slow it down and likely kill it. Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the Liberty Legal Institute, which backs the proposal, said he believes Texans will come to the polls in droves to
approve the ban. "We feel confident that when the people speak they will agree that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. (AP)