Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Virginia Senate yesterday gave overwhelming final approval to a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, clearing the way for the issue to be put to voters in November.

The measure, which also would ban same-sex civil unions, passed 28-11 after a short debate.

Meanwhile, a similar proposal is gaining momentum in Maryland since a Baltimore Circuit Court judge last week ruled that the state’s 33-year-old ban on same-sex “marriage” is unconstitutional.

Traditional marriage has widespread support in the Democrat-controlled Maryland legislature.

But state Democratic leaders appear reluctant to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot because it could energize conservative voters in an election year in which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, is seeking re-election, and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, also a Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate.

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both Democrats, said that they support traditional marriage, but that the General Assembly should not consider a constitutional amendment on the issue until the state’s appellate court can rule on the circuit court judge’s decision.

The court isn’t expected to issue a ruling before the legislature adjourns in April.

“They don’t want it on the ballot,” said Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican. “The votes are there. This is going to boil down to politics.”

In Virginia, state Sen. Stephen D. Newman said the constitutional amendment is necessary to guard against “aggressive” judges in other states, including Maryland, who are trying to redefine marriage.

“A few judges or a few localities are now presuming to change that fundamental meaning for our civilization and their actions have created confusion on the issue,” the Lynchburg Republican said. “The federal courts are going to leave us with no other recourse.”

Democrats, bolstered by the hundreds of Virginians who lobbied at the state Capitol yesterday for special homosexual rights, argued that the measure would write discrimination into the constitution.

“I feel this overwhelming sense of sadness today, to think that we are deliberately doing something so intolerant, so discriminatory and so overreaching,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw said the amendment will not protect marriage.

“If this is a threat to your marriage, you’ve got a problem,” the Fairfax County Democrat said.

A poll conducted earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports showed that 63 percent of Virginians and 54 percent of Marylanders would support constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

A proposed amendment would need a three-fifths majority in the Maryland House and Senate to go before voters in November.

Virginia’s House of Delegates approved the amendment 73-22 earlier this month, and yesterday’s final Senate passage placed it on the Nov. 7 ballot. It does not need the signature of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat.

On Friday, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that it was unconstitutional for Maryland county clerks to deny marriage licenses to nine same-sex couples who applied for them. Judge Murdock said the 1973 law defining marriage violates the state’s Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office is appealing the decision.

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