By the Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A push by extremists to ban equal marriage rights through a constitutional amendment gained renewed momentum Nov. 9 after a Senate panel led by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback narrowly approved the measure.
The “Marriage Protection Amendment” would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, effectively rescinding the Massachusetts law that legalized equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“None of us takes amending the Constitution lightly,” said Brownback, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution. “The plain fact is this amendment has been exhaustively studied and it really is time to act.”
While a similar effort led by George W. Bush failed in both chambers of Congress last year, conservative lawmakers are pushing for another vote to head off any decision in the federal courts that could legalize equal marriage.
In a 5-4 vote along party lines, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., cast the deciding vote allowing the amendment to pass to the full Judiciary Committee and a likely vote in the Senate next year. Specter said he opposes the amendment but feels it shouldn’t “be bottled up” in committee.
The measure would need to be approved by two-thirds of those voting in the House and Senate and then be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.
Using an argument often made by Republicans, Democrats on the panel said the amendment would trample decisions that should be left to the states. Nineteen states have already passed a constitutional ban on equal marriage rights. Voters in five other states will consider similar constitutional amendments next year.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., ranking Democrat on the panel, called the measure “an extreme and unnecessary reaction” that has little chance of passing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused those pushing the amendment of harboring a political agenda.
Brownback, who is weighing a presidential bid, denied any political motives.