Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The next round of proposals to amend state constitutions to define marriage will begin in a few weeks as lawmakers in as many as nine states promise to get such measures before voters.

In Texas yesterday, state Rep. Warren Chisum “pre-filed” a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Virginia lawmakers have pre-filed a similar amendment, while state legislators in Washington, Idaho, South Carolina and Alabama have said they will introduce marriage amendments as soon as possible.

Marriage amendments already are being processed in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Tennessee, where they require a second legislative approval to go before voters.

The 11-for-11 election victories for marriage amendments Nov. 2 “will encourage legislators in other states to follow suit,” said Glen Lavy, a lawyer with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which is involved in many legal battles over same-sex “marriage.”

Last week’s vote “was an overwhelming endorsement of the idea that marriage is what it always has been — [the union of] a man and a woman,” he said.

The amendment votes should give state legislatures “some confidence that this is an issue that the American people are behind and are willing to support,” said Joshua Baker, legal analyst at the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy in Washington, which tracks same-sex “marriage” issues.

However, at least one marriage amendment is expected to have a bumpy ride. Last spring, the Massachusetts legislature passed, by a 105-92 vote, a compromise amendment to reserve marriage for heterosexual couples and create civil unions for same-sex couples.

Neither traditional-values groups nor homosexual rights groups were pleased with the amendment.

It now has to go before the new legislature and win at least 101 votes before it can go before voters. But the odds that the Massachusetts amendment will pass lengthened Nov. 2, when three amendment supporters were voted out of office.

Homosexual rights activists say these new amendment opponents, with help from lawmakers who will change their minds and vote against the amendment, will sink the measure if it comes up.

It is likely that legislative leaders won’t even bring it up. Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees, a Republican and co-sponsor of the amendment, has told the Republican newspaper of Springfield, Mass., that the measure might be dropped.

“Gay marriage is in place. It would be very hard to take something away that is already there,” Mr. Lees said, referring to a Massachusetts court’s unprecedented decision to legalize same-sex “marriage” last year.

Amendment supporters outnumber opponents 103-to-96, the State House News Service says. This assumes “everyone maintains their vote” from last year, said a reporter at the Boston-based news service.

In Wisconsin, where Republicans control both legislative chambers, the marriage amendment is likely to go to a vote early next year. If it passes, as expected, it could go to voters a few months later.

In Tennessee, the legislature passed its marriage amendment for the first time in May. It now has to be approved by a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber before it can go to voters. Clearing that hurdle shouldn’t be hard because the amendment passed the first time through by lopsided votes — 86-5 in the House and 28-1 in the Senate.

Seventeen states have constitutional amendments defining marriage. Voters in Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska and Nevada approved amendments in the 1990s and early 2000s. On Nov. 2, amendments were approved by voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

Missouri and Louisiana passed amendments earlier this year. The Louisiana amendment has been overturned by a lower court ruling and is under appeal.

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