U.S. Senate committee passes same-sex marriage ban

A Senate panel on Thursday advanced a measure that would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage as committee chairman Arlen Specter shouted "Good riddance!" to Democrat Russ Feingold (pictured), who stormed out of the tense session.

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May 18 2006 11:00 PM ET

A Senate panel on
Thursday advanced a measure that would amend the U.S.
Constitution to ban same-sex marriage as the committee
chairman shouted "Good riddance!" to a Democrat who
walked out of the tense session. "If you want to
leave, good riddance," Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen
Specter told Wisconsin Democratic senator Russell
Feingold, who refused to participate because, he said, the
meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.

"I've enjoyed
your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman,"
Feingold told the Pennsylvania Republican before storming
out. The testy exchange highlighted tensions over the
proposal, which would prevent states from recognizing
same-sex marriages.

The measure
passed 10–8 on a party-line vote in a brief session
held in a small private chamber just off the Senate
floor. Specter said he voted for the amendment because
he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate,
even though he does not support it.

The
same-sex-marriage ban deals with one of several hot-button
social issues Republicans are raising to rally
conservative voters ahead of November's congressional
elections. Because the measure would change the
Constitution, it must pass both houses of Congress by a
two-thirds majority and then be approved by at least
38 states.

The measure
failed in the Senate in 2004 and is not expected to pass
this year either. Kansas Republican senator Sam
Brownback said he expects it to be brought up for a
vote in the full Senate in early June. Same-sex
marriage has been a hot topic since a Massachusetts court
ruled in 2003 that it violated the
state's constitution to deny marriage rights to
gay couples, paving the way for America's first same-sex
marriages in May of the following year.

At least 17
states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex
marriage. Legal challenges seeking permission for gays and
lesbians to marry are pending in 10 states. "This
issue's either going to be resolved by the courts or
by this body," Brownback said.

Just over half of
all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, according to a
March poll by the Pew Research center, down from 63% in
February 2004.

Vermont senator
Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, said the
same-sex marriage ban was a waste of time for a committee
that needs to tackle a wide range of other pressing
issues, such as judicial nominations and
oversight of the National Security Administration's
domestic-spying program. "I didn't realize marriages were so
threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years," Leahy said.

Leahy said
Republican senator Orrin Hatch, who supports the ban, has
expressed support for polygamists in his home state of Utah.
"I never said that," Hatch responded. "I know some
[polygamists] that are very sincere.... Don't accuse
me of wanting to have polygamy."

Shortly after the
hearing, Feingold issued the following statement:

"Today's markup
of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage,
in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of
people other than senators and their staffs present,
was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its
consideration in such an inappropriate setting and
refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed
that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward
with the markup over my objection. Unfortunately,
the majority leader has set a politically motivated
schedule for floor consideration of this measure that
the chairman felt compelled to follow, even though he says
he opposes the amendment.

"Constitutional
amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate
consideration of any matter that comes before the
Senate. In addition to hearings and a
subcommittee markup, such a measure should be
considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day,
open to the press and the public, with cameras present
so that the whole country can see what is done. Open
and deliberate debate on such an important matter
cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the
chairman of the committee today.

"The Constitution
of the United States is an historic guarantee of
individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an
example to people around the world who yearn to be
free and to live their lives without government
interference in their most basic human
decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to
support and defend the Constitution. I will continue
to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted,
and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate
floor." (Reuters, with additional reporting by The
Advocate)

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