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The Arizona house gave preliminary approval Thursday to a proposal urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Even though state law already outlaws same-sex marriages, supporters said the nonbinding measure would further protect the sanctity of families by helping to prevent judges from overturning the prohibition. Opponents said the measure treats gays differently than heterosexuals and that the issue is a distraction from some of the state's top priorities, such as education and health care. "Frankly, it is hard for me to imagine a more appropriate and more pressing issue," said Republican representative Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, who supports the measure. Democratic representative Ted Downing of Tucson, an opponent of the measure, said divorce poses a bigger threat to families than same-sex marriage. "How in the world could we lose our priorities?" Downing asked. The proposal, which will move on to a formal vote by the house, is similar to a measure that cleared the house last year but was narrowly defeated in the senate. Opponents of same-sex marriage have said they will conduct a petition drive aimed at asking voters in 2006 to put a gay marriage prohibition in the Arizona constitution. Eleven states approved such constitutional bans in November.