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FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2005
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Gay marriage: You decide
Legislature OKs constitutional amendment banning same-sex rites; statewide vote planned

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A year after a wave of gay marriages swept America, the Alabama Legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages in the state and refuse to recognize those from other states.

The Senate voted 30-0 to give final approval to the proposed constitutional amendment, which the House passed Tuesday. The measure still must be approved by Alabama voters at the next statewide election, which currently would be the party primary election scheduled for June 2006.

Gay weddings became a national issue last year, starting Feb. 12 in San Francisco when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the city's wedding registry to gay couples. Gay weddings jumped to Oregon in March, then New Mexico and New Paltz, N.Y., before a court ruling in May cleared the way for thousands of gay marriages in Massachusetts.

A backlash followed, with voters in 11 states approving constitutional amendments in November to ban gay marriages. Voters in two other states, Missouri and Louisiana, barred gay marriages earlier in 2004.

Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, had been trying for four years to pass a constitutional ban in Alabama. He said the gay weddings last year heightened public interest and helped get his proposal passed.

"It's not good for our children to see," he said.

Howard Bayless, chairman of the board of the gay rights group Equality Alabama, accused the Legislature of "meddling into the lives of families. The government is deciding what our families are and what families are made of, and to me that's unconscionable."

But John Giles, state president of the Christian Coalition, said the bipartisan support for the proposed constitutional amendment shows the Legislature "has heard and responded to the will of the people."

The proposed constitutional amendment not only prohibits same-sex marriages in Alabama, it says Alabama will not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions or common-law marriages from other states, even if they are considered legal in those states.

A lawyer who voted for the legislation, Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, said that opens the door to a legal challenge because the U.S. Constitution requires states to give "full faith and credit" to decrees from other states.

"If something should be found unconstitutional, we'll come back and address it," said Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, who voted for the measure.

Even though the proposed constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly, there were weeks of behind-the-scene battles over when to hold the statewide referendum. Many Republicans wanted it on the general election in November 2006 because they felt it would bring out conservative voters and help them claim more seats in the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Democrats wanted it in the primary election when they felt it wouldn't impact their races.

Republicans finally gave in to the Democrats' demands.

Proponents from both political parties predicted Alabama voters will welcome the opportunity to put the amendment in the state constitution.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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