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Groundbreaking gay marriage bill advances in California

Groundbreaking gay marriage bill advances in California

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in California has cleared an assembly committee despite arguments that it would violate a ban on same-sex marriage approved by state voters five years ago. The partisan 6-3 vote Tuesday by the assembly judiciary committee marked the first test this year for the measure, which would amend the state family code to define marriage as between "two persons" instead of between a man and a woman. Even with the bill's legality in dispute, the issue percolating in the courts, and its prospects for getting signed into law uncertain, supporters said it was important for lawmakers to back the extension of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "It was not so long ago in California that you couldn't marry someone who was of a different ethnicity than yourself--that was tradition, that was the practice, that was the law, and it was wrong," said Democratic committee chairman Dave Jones. "It is equally wrong that we do not afford the right of marriage to all our citizens." Opponents, however, claimed lawmakers had no business even hearing the bill because it undermines the electorate's will. In 2000, more than 61% of California voters passed Proposition 22, which said the state will recognize only marriages between a man and a woman as valid. The state constitution expressly prohibits the legislature from amending statutes enacted by voters. "The people of California knew exactly what they were doing," said Republican assemblyman Ray Haynes. "The only institutional relationship that will have legal significance in California is between a man and a woman.". But the bill's lead author, gay assemblyman Mark Leno, claimed the measure does not run afoul of Proposition 22 because the initiative prevents California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and does not apply to in-state gay unions. He acknowledged, though, that a court would ultimately have to decide which interpretation is correct. "I agree this won't end the debate," said Leno, a Democrat. "But when we, as legislators, and when I, as a legislator, see injustice in our state, it is my job to correct it." The question of whether Leno's bill contravenes Proposition 22 or even is needed may ultimately prove moot. Ruling in a pair of cases seeking to overturn California's ban on gay marriage, a trial court judge in San Francisco said Proposition 22 unconstitutionally breaches the civil rights of gays and lesbians. That ruling is expected to be appealed. Meanwhile, two other California lawmakers have introduced constitutional amendments that would elevate the state's existing definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman from statute to the constitution. Those bills still face legislative committee hearings and would need to be passed by two thirds of lawmakers to be submitted to voters. The antigay group Campaign for California Families on Tuesday vowed to gather the necessary signatures to circumvent the legislature and put a proposed constitutional marriage ban before voters next year.. Last year the judiciary committee passed legislation similar to the measure approved Tuesday, but Leno later pulled it from consideration because it did not have enough support in the full assembly. Both times, votes split along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans in opposition. Leno said that with the backing of Democratic assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, who signed on as a coauthor this year, he expects the bill to make it to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor has indicated he is not inclined to sign it. Apart from disagreement over its legality, the measure prompted debate on how gays can be denied the right to marry in a nation that derives much of its identity from its stated dedication to equality. "Gay people are everywhere," testified Fresno resident Baltimore Gonzalez, who attended with his same-sex partner. "Voting 'No, we can't get married' is not going to make us go away.... Giving us equal rights will help us all live better." The bill's opponents were just as steadfast. "Marriage between a man and a woman, what you might call a traditional family, is the basic building block of our society," said Republican assemblyman Tim Leslie. "To tamper with that causes grave concern and is a very dangerous thing to do." (AP)

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