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U.S. Senate
committee passes same-sex marriage ban

U.S. Senate
committee passes same-sex marriage ban


A Senate panel on Thursday advanced a measure that would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage as committee chairman Arlen Specter shouted "Good riddance!" to Democrat Russ Feingold (pictured), who stormed out of the tense session.

A Senate panel on Thursday advanced a measure that would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage as the committee chairman shouted "Good riddance!" to a Democrat who walked out of the tense session. "If you want to leave, good riddance," Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter told Wisconsin Democratic senator Russell Feingold, who refused to participate because, he said, the meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.

"I've enjoyed your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman," Feingold told the Pennsylvania Republican before storming out. The testy exchange highlighted tensions over the proposal, which would prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The measure passed 10-8 on a party-line vote in a brief session held in a small private chamber just off the Senate floor. Specter said he voted for the amendment because he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate, even though he does not support it.

The same-sex-marriage ban deals with one of several hot-button social issues Republicans are raising to rally conservative voters ahead of November's congressional elections. Because the measure would change the Constitution, it must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority and then be approved by at least 38 states.

The measure failed in the Senate in 2004 and is not expected to pass this year either. Kansas Republican senator Sam Brownback said he expects it to be brought up for a vote in the full Senate in early June. Same-sex marriage has been a hot topic since a Massachusetts court ruled in 2003 that it violated the state's constitution to deny marriage rights to gay couples, paving the way for America's first same-sex marriages in May of the following year.

At least 17 states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. Legal challenges seeking permission for gays and lesbians to marry are pending in 10 states. "This issue's either going to be resolved by the courts or by this body," Brownback said.

Just over half of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, according to a March poll by the Pew Research center, down from 63% in February 2004.

Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, said the same-sex marriage ban was a waste of time for a committee that needs to tackle a wide range of other pressing issues, such as judicial nominations and oversight of the National Security Administration's domestic-spying program. "I didn't realize marriages were so threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years," Leahy said.

Leahy said Republican senator Orrin Hatch, who supports the ban, has expressed support for polygamists in his home state of Utah. "I never said that," Hatch responded. "I know some [polygamists] that are very sincere.... Don't accuse me of wanting to have polygamy."

Shortly after the hearing, Feingold issued the following statement:

"Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward with the markup over my objection. Unfortunately, the majority leader has set a politically motivated schedule for floor consideration of this measure that the chairman felt compelled to follow, even though he says he opposes the amendment.

"Constitutional amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate consideration of any matter that comes before the Senate. In addition to hearings and a subcommittee markup, such a measure should be considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day, open to the press and the public, with cameras present so that the whole country can see what is done. Open and deliberate debate on such an important matter cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the chairman of the committee today.

"The Constitution of the United States is an historic guarantee of individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an example to people around the world who yearn to be free and to live their lives without government interference in their most basic human decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to support and defend the Constitution. I will continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor." (Reuters, with additional reporting by TheAdvocate)

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