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Utah senate passes bill banning gay marriage

Utah senate passes bill banning gay marriage

Over the protests of Democrats who said a measure prohibiting gay marriage could be interpreted as an endorsement of polygamy, the Utah senate on Friday passed the bill and sent it to the house. The bill defines marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages, common-law marriages, or civil unions allowed in other states. But Democrats claimed that unless the wording were changed to "one man and one woman," the bill could seem to allow multiple partners. "If we don't put this in, it could mean one man and nine women and nine men and one woman," said Sen. Ed Mayne. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), quickly responded that he didn't like the altered wording "because it reaches into the polygamist community." When Sen. Ron Allen asked if that meant Buttars wanted to protect polygamy, Buttars responded, "We don't think it's relevant." In committee meetings and floor debates during the past two weeks, lawmakers and lawyers were concerned that the bill would close the courts to same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples with legitimate legal questions regarding child custody and care, wills, medical decisions, mortgages, or even car ownership. The polygamy question didn't arise until Friday morning's final senate floor debate on the bill. "Given the history of our state, there is absolutely no problem with clarifying this," said Sen. Patrice Arent. "I wonder about the message we send to the world if we don't clarify it." The mainstream Mormon Church abandoned polygamy a century ago as the Utah territory sought statehood, and it now excommunicates practitioners. The Utah constitution expressly forbids polygamy. Republican senators rose to help reject the reworded version, 29-9, and support Buttars's bill. "This is a tempest in a teapot," said Sen. John Valentine. Legislative counsel staffers have assured him that "a" means "one," he said. "We're not trying to foster polygamy here." Before the vote, as several Republicans huddled on the floor in an ad hoc caucus, senate president Al Mansell remarked that the bill was an election-year phenomenon. And before the final vote concerning the reworded bill, Arent raised the question of constitutionality. "As we all know, same-sex marriage is already banned in Utah," she said. "I think it's unfortunate we are inviting litigation. I think we should just staple a check to the ACLU on it." A civil rights lawsuit is now in federal court challenging Utah's ban on polygamy. Some legal experts say the case has a chance to succeed because of the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas ruling, which invalidated sodomy laws nationwide, citing the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause.

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