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Gay marriage ban fails in conservative Idaho

Gay marriage ban fails in conservative Idaho

A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Idaho was defeated Wednesday for the second consecutive year. A statutory prohibition remains in force. The measure was defeated 21-14 after conservative supporters could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to send the measure to voters, who would have decided whether to write the ban into the state constitution. Eight Republican senators joined with six Democrats to vote against the measure. The amendment would have invalidated any type of marriage or civil union except those between one man and one woman. The bill's sponsor, Republican senator Curt McKenzie of Nampa, said he would not try to pass an amended version of the bill this year. But the narrow margin of defeat means the bill will probably be considered at least once again next year. The issue has been at the forefront of legislative debate since the session began January 10, dividing friends, colleagues, and even the Republican Party leadership. Proponents have argued they are trying to protect traditional marriage from "activist judges" who want to expand the definition of marriage. Opponents say the state should not discriminate against an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation, and they also argue that the legislation is unnecessary and mean-spirited because gay marriage is already prohibited by state law. During the floor debate, several proponents argued that if lawmakers killed the legislation, Idaho would become the only state that had failed to give voters an opportunity to have their say. Boise State University political science professor Jim Weatherby said such a claim would be hard to prove, since legislation can be defeated by other means, such as last year's procedural vote in the senate, which ended a similar attempt in Idaho. Although Idaho is considered to be staunchly conservative and has the most Republican government in the nation, Idaho residents have a bipartisan tendency against allowing government to interfere in private matters, Weatherby said. "There's just a healthy dose of libertarianism in Idaho politics," Weatherby said. "Idaho is a conservative red state, but it's more economically conservative than socially conservative." But it's still a close call. Last week the senate state affairs committee approved the legislation 5-4 after more than three hours of emotional testimony from gays, conservative activists, civil rights groups, and clergy on both sides of the issue. Wednesday's debate produced more of the same well-worn arguments, though the senators still delivered them with a lively freshness. Proponents argued time and again that they were not voting to actually change the state constitution; they were only allowing the voters to choose their own course. "What we are deciding is whether we are going to let Idaho social policy be voted on by the people or whether it's going to be made in the courts," McKenzie said. But minority floor leader Clint Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, said the two-thirds majority needed for passage wasn't written into the state charter by accident. "My marriage is not threatened, and I believe there is no threat in Idaho," Stennett said. "The constitutional framers set a high bar. The two-thirds vote is designed for the protection of the minority against the majority." (AP)

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