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Kansas house likely to consider marriage amendment next week

Kansas house likely to consider marriage amendment next week

Members of the Kansas house will likely consider a proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution banning same sex-marriage and civil unions for gay couples next week, Speaker Doug Mays said Friday. Mays said the measure has momentum after the senate adopted it on a 28-11 vote Thursday, the fourth day of the 2005 session. Besides banning marriage and civil unions for gays and lesbians, the proposed amendment would declare that only couples of one man and one woman would be entitled to benefits normally associated with marriage. Mays said the house, like the senate, would debate the measure without having public hearings or a committee review. "I think most members in the house understand exactly where they stand," Mays, a Topeka Republican, said during a news conference. Adoption in the house requires 84 of 125 votes. If legislators finish their work by February 11, the proposed amendment will go on the ballot April 5, when Kansas holds city and school board elections. Approval by a simple majority of voters would change the constitution. Backers of the amendment said it would protect the traditional definition of marriage--defined in state statute since 1867--from legal challenges. They also said such unions form strong families and are vital to society. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and some legislators have said an amendment isn't necessary to protect marriage, given existing Kansas law. Other critics consider the measure discriminatory. Republican leaders in both chambers have said public hearings and committee reviews aren't necessary because of extensive legislative debate last year. This year's proposal mirrors one the senate approved but house members rejected last year. Last year voters in 13 other states, including Missouri, amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage. Some supporters of a Kansas amendment cited the votes in other states as a reason for acting quickly, arguing that Kansas voters would have approved an amendment overwhelmingly had they been given the opportunity. "We feel like it's very important and we should go ahead and get it done as quickly as we can," said the Reverend Joe Wright, senior pastor of Wichita's Central Christian Church. But opponents of the amendment said the quick consideration of the proposal prevents legislators from considering its potential ramifications, such as whether it would affect private companies offering domestic-partner benefits. And they note that almost a quarter of the legislature's members--12 in the senate and 28 in the house--were not serving last year. "This is absolutely unprecedented, that the legislature would change the very founding document of this state without so much as a committee hearing," said Tom Witt, field organizer for Equality Kansas, a Wichita group opposing the amendment. "The extremists just want to ram it through."

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