Gay Marriage Wars Coast-To-Coast

Gay marriage, nation divided
Lawmakers from coast-to-coast are now embroiled in the debate over same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin and Kansas pushed ahead Friday on efforts to amend their states' constitutions to ban gay marriage, and a similar measure died in Idaho.

The actions came two days after Utah's Legislature agreed to put its own anti-gay marriage amendment before voters, countering efforts elsewhere to legalize the partnerships, including nearly 3,600 same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco in the past three weeks.

Fourteen states are seeking this year to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. States in recent years have already acted broadly in opposition to the prospect of same-sex marriages, passing so-called Defense of Marriage laws in 38 states. And four have already amended their own constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Most Americans are opposed to gay marriage. A CBS News poll conducted immediately after Mr. Bush endorsed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, 59 percent of Americans said they would favor an amendment to the Constitution that would "allow marriage only between a man and a woman," up slightly from 55 percent last December.

President Bush is supporting a movement to amend the U.S. Constitution, citing decisions by Massachusetts' top court that prohibiting same-sex marriages would violate that state's constitution. The court rulings cleared the way for full-fledged gay marriages by mid-May and sparked the parade of marriages in San Francisco.

New York:
State Supreme Court Justice Vincent Bradley issued a temporary restraining order against 26-year-old New Paltz mayor Jason West at the request of the Florida-based Liberty Council, which acted on behalf of a local resident, barring him from performing same-sex marriages for a month.

"The mayor in substance ignores the oath of office that he took to uphold the law," Bradley said.

West performed his first spate of 25 same-sex marriages last Friday, drawing his village 75 miles north of New York City into a fast-spreading debate over gay marriage that has roosted in communities from Long Island to Portland, Ore.

West had said earlier Friday that he was putting off a second round of same-sex marriages planned for Saturday so he could consult with state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. But West had said he only planned to postpone the weddings for a week.

Spitzer issued an opinion this week saying New York does not allow same-sex marriages. Opponents of gay marriage have sought a court order to enjoin West from performing the ceremonies, though a judge has not yet ruled.

Undeterred by the attorney general's edict earlier this week that state law prohibits same-sex marriages, about 50 gay couples converged Friday on Babylon Town Hall in Long Island, N.Y. their first stop in a daylong effort to find a town clerk on the island willing to issue them marriage licenses, reports Jennifer McLogan for CBS affiliate WCBS.

Edward Farrell, the director of the New York Conference of Mayors, said mayors who told him they would have considered performing ceremonies between same-sex couples have changed their mind since Spitzer issued his opinion.

"Part of a mayor's oath of office is to uphold the laws of the state of New York and the attorney general made it clear that same-sex marriages are not authorized under the law," Farrell said.

New York and Oregon are among 12 states without laws explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

In Kansas, the House voted 88-36 for an amendment to ban gay marriages and the granting of benefits associated with marriage to other relationships. It would need a two-thirds vote in the Senate and majority of the vote in November to become part of the constitution.

Kansas already has a law, adopted in 1996, stating that marriage is valid only between one man and one woman. The proposed amendment would add a similar statement to the state constitution, along with the benefits prohibition.

The Idaho proposal, which would have banned gay marriages, failed on a 20-13 vote to come out of committee. Amendment opponents emphasized during the debate that the state had already passed a law in 1996 banning gay marriage.

In Utah, where a strong majority of the population belongs to the conservative Mormon church, legislators have sent Gov. Olene Walker a bill to outlaw gay marriage. Walker hasn't said whether she'll sign it.

The proposal approved by the Wisconsin Assembly 68-27 would prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions. It now goes to the state Senate. More approval from lawmakers and voters would also be required for it to become law.

Wisconsin statutes already define marriage as a contract between a husband and a wife and do not recognize gay marriage. But backers feared a judge would overrule that.

"Amending our statutes is not going to address the problem," said Republican Rep. Mark Gundrum, the amendment's main author. "We need to have this in our state constitution or we are every bit as vulnerable to activists judges instituting same-sex marriage as they did in Massachusetts."

Democratic Rep. Tom Hebl said the amendment's 43 words were among the most spiteful ever put on paper.

"It's liberty and justice for all unless you're gay and lesbian," Hebl said.

To take effect, the proposed amendment would have to pass both houses of the Legislature by simple majorities in consecutive two-year sessions and be approved by voters in a referendum.

San Francisco:
Lawyers for San Francisco planned Friday to answer efforts by California's attorney general and gay marriage opponents to invalidate its same-sex marriages. The lawyers expected to tell the state Supreme Court that nothing in the state constitution requires local officials to obey laws they believe are unconstitutional.

County and local officials in liberal spots in Oregon, New Mexico and New York have followed suit.

Lawyers planned to file briefs with the state Supreme Court on Friday defending the mayor's decision to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The briefs argue that preventing the city from performing same-sex weddings would undermine the system of government. They also contend that nothing in the state constitution requires local officials to obey laws they believe are unconstitutional.

Those are the core arguments in San Francisco's response to efforts by the state attorney general and opponents of same-sex marriage to void nearly 3,600same-sex unions sealed in the last three weeks.