House committee discusses gay marriage amendment

Thursday, April 15, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A gay man pleaded with state legislators Wednesday not to place a ban in the state Constitution that would bar him from marrying his partner of 11 years.

The House Committee on Children and Families heard the Senate version of legislation that would ask Missouri voters to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The committee did not vote on the proposed constitutional amendment, however, and its chairwoman said she wasn't sure if there is enough time left in the legislative session to take a vote on sending the bill to the House floor. The session ends May 14.

The House still must take a final vote on its proposed amendment to send it to the Senate.

Both measures would prohibit marriage between gay couples. Although state law already says that Missouri only recognizes marriage between one man and one woman, supporters say putting that language into the Missouri Constitution would prevent "activist judges" from overturning the state law.

They often point to a Massachusetts court decision that declared it unconstitutional there to bar gay people from marrying.

"We've seen all across the country how judges have decided to ignore the law," said Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, sponsor of the Senate version. "This undermines democracy, and we need to have protection in our constitution."

Michael Getty, a St. Louis resident, spoke against the proposal, saying all he wants is the right to the same lifelong commitment enjoyed by heterosexuals.

He called himself "one of the thousands of Missourians whose rights will be limited."

"Our lives are richer when we are full members of our community," he said. "Our community is also richer."

Getty said he and his partner were married last year in Toronto, although that marriage isn't recognized in Missouri. He said he wants the same marriage rights as anyone else in the United States.

"At one point it struck us this is what it feels like to be equal," he said. "No discriminatory law, no amendment ... will stop us from fighting for equality in the place we call home."

The Senate proposal would amend the Missouri Constitution to state: "That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman."

The House proposal also says marriage shall only be between a man and a woman, but also that the state won't recognize anything "treated as a marriage" in other states or countries, other than one between a man and a woman.

If the House and Senate eventually agree on the same language, the proposed amendment would go on the November ballot unless Gov. Bob Holden sets the matter for a special election.

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Gay marriage bills are SJR29 and HJR39.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

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