Debate on gay marriage not over

By Billy Corriher

After the Georgia House narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Thursday, lawmakers were preparing to take up the measure again next week.

Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, voted to approve the resolution and said he would continue to support it if it was reconsidered on Monday.

"It's certainly not over," he said. "We're going to work on it again."

Barnes said he thinks the next vote could have a different outcome, especially if the Christian Coalition of Georgia and other lobbying groups continue their efforts to get the ban passed.

The ban already passed the Republican-controlled Senate, and since the governor's signature isn't required to change the constitution in Georgia, even opponents of the measure thought it was likely to head to voters for final approval this fall.

"I was thrilled when I heard the news," said Allen Thornell, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state's largest gay rights group. "Many of the representatives recognize that we already have a state law (banning gay marriage) and this is not an issue that needs to be addressed in the state constitution."

Thornell said his group would continue to lobby legislators to vote against the bill when it comes up again.

"Nothing's over until it's over," he said.

Supporters of the ban fell just three votes short of clearing the final legislative hurdle on Thursday. The Democrat-controlled House voted 117-50 in favor of the marriage ban, just short of the 120 votes needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

But since 12 members were absent from Thursday's debate, the amendment could get the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution on Monday.

The defeat came largely because black Democrats opposed the measure, comparing the struggle for black voting rights to the current national debate over gay rights. Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, is one black legislator who voted against the resolution on Thursday.

"It is discrimination, in my opinion, that you are putting in the Constitution (if the ban is passed)," Mosby said. "If you abridge the rights of some people, you're putting us all in jeopardy."

Most rural white Democrats voted against their urban and black colleagues, joining all but one Republican in supporting the ban.

Rep. Ron Dodson, D-Lake City, said his support for the same-sex marriage ban is a matter of principle.

"They're not going to change my mind with three or four hours of debate," he said. "As a Christian, I just don't believe same-sex marriage is a way of life."

Conservative Christian groups vowed to return next week for the reconsideration, promising huge crowds that would lobby legislators to vote for the marriage ban.

"I'm going to use my powers of persuasion and just reason with them," said Sadie Fields, director of the Christian Coalition of Georgia.

Other legislative action

In other legislative action, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a midyear spending plan on Thursday, but hours later Gov. Sonny Perdue reduced his revenue estimates, meaning the budget may require further cuts.

Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, sits on the appropriations committee and said the budget will be reexamined before it's brought up for a vote on Tuesday.

"We'll work with what we've got," Starr said. "It's not a very pleasant task, but we'll see what we have to do."

The House delayed a vote all week on new political district maps required by a court order, a signal that Democratic leaders might not have enough support to pass the maps. The Senate has already passed a map for its chamber and if the House does not pass new maps by Monday, a federal court will draw the maps.

Republicans leaders claim the plan being drawn up by the Democratic leadership is not that different from the maps that were overturned by the federal court. The court ordered the maps to more evenly spread the state's population across the representative districts.

If the House did pass the maps, they would still have to be approved by the Senate and Gov. Sonny Perdue. The proposed maps still include multi-member districts, which Perdue and other Republicans oppose.

Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, said there's a chance the maps could pass on Monday, but he would be satisfied with having the courts draw them up.

"I think we've spend enough time on this issue," he said.

Lunsford said the court would not consider place of residency for any legislators, only spreading Georgia's population evenly over the districts.

"I think they would be fair," he said. "The winner in this is going to be the citizens of Georgia."

Staff Writer Mike Davis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.