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Legal, civil rights arguments fuel gay marriage debate

Thursday, March 4, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Saying same-sex marriages are likely to spread across America like a "wildfire," Republican senators, including Majority Leader Bill Frist, exhorted Congress Wednesday to embrace a constitutional amendment banning them.

"We simply will not let activist judges redefine that definition of marriage," the Tennessee Republican said at a gathering of anti-gay marriage activists. "We will not let activist judges redefine -- I would say radically redefine -- what marriage is, and that is a union between a man and a woman."

But in an unlikely alliance, some "limited government" conservatives, gay rights and civil rights supporters all plan to fight an amendment, even though they may not agree on the gay marriage question.

"This is not to say that conservatives such as myself necessarily favor gay marriages, but that we strongly oppose the notion of addressing this issue of social policy in our nation's governing document," said Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach.

Wednesday's broadsides opened what promises to be a divisive election-year battle on Capitol Hill.

Using the Massachusetts high court ruling permitting same-sex marriages as an impetus, Frist said that Congress should not wait until the states make a final decision on the subject.

With gay marriages already being performed in California and New York, "the wildfire will begin and in many ways it already has begun," he said. "Same sex marriage is likely to spread through all 50 states in the coming years. It is becoming increasingly clear that Congress must act."

A new front in the battle over same-sex marriage opened Wednesday in Portland, Ore., where county officials issued hundreds of licenses to gay couples after deciding that Oregon law allowed the unions.


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