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Gay marriage ban stuck in committee

By Billy Corriher

After the state House of Representatives voted to reconsider a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the proposal remains stuck in the House Rules Committee.

If the measure is eventually approved by the House, the amendment would be decided in a statewide referendum during the November election, where the latest polls suggest it has a good chance to pass.

Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press at Tuesday's election indicate that only about one in six Georgia voters said gay couples should have the right to marry. One in four voters said same-sex couples should be allowed to legally form civil unions but not marry.

The amendment to ban gay marriage was brought up in the House last Thursday, but supporters of the bill fell just three short of the 120 votes needed to pass an amendment. Legislators then voted to reconsider the proposal. The Senate has already approved the amendment.

Conservative groups like the Christian Coalition of Georgia are still pushing for the amendment while gay rights advocates continue lobbying legislators to vote against the bill.

Atlanta resident Mark Hutcheson was one of many gay rights advocates gathered last Friday outside the Capitol. Hutcheson and his partner, Steve Wheeler, came to voice their opposition to the bill.

"This is a hate bill," he said. "It's discrimination, plain and simple."

Hutcheson said he's particularly offended by language in the bill that prohibits the recognition of any same-sex civil unions.

"This moves us backward," he said. "This is not just about gay marriage. It's about making gays and lesbians second-class citizens."

Riverdale resident Bonnie Anderson said she has respect and tolerance for gays and lesbians, but she doesn't think they should be allowed to marry.

"I just feel like (gay marriage) is completely against what the Bible teaches," she said.

With all the publicity the issue is getting, Anderson said she thinks gay marriage will be an important factor in this year's election.

"I think it'll be a huge issue because marriage is the foundation for everything in our society," she said.

Anderson said the issue was so important to her that she planned to contact her representatives to ask them to support the amendment.

"I would like for them to vote to put stronger teeth in the (current) gay marriage law," she said.

Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said she supports the amendment to ban same-sex marriages, but since there is already a state law barring such marriages, she questioned the motive behind introducing it during an election year.

"This is purely a political wedge being driven by the national Republican Party," she said.

Buckner said the original law is strong enough and does not need to be written into the state constitution.

But Sadie Fields, director of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, said the amendment is necessary because the state's current law banning gay marriage could be ruled unconstitutional without an amendment.

"We need that extra barrier between the law, the courts, and the homosexual community," she said.

The need for the ban came about because gay and lesbian couples across the country are pushing to have their marriages recognized, Fields said.

"The homosexual community made this an issue," she said.

Fields said she thinks the amendment would pass in a statewide referendum if it passes the House.

Rep. Victor Hill, D-College Park, did not vote on the amendment last week, but hinted that he would vote against it if it comes up again, saying the legislature needs to work on more important things.

"I'm against same-sex marriages, and I am also against changing the constitution," he said.

"The amount of time we're spending on that, we could be working on things that really impact people's lives," he said, mentioning education, health care, and the state's budget crunch.

Tonja Holder of the Southern Crescent Gay/Straight Alliance said she's contacting her legislators and asked them to vote against the bill if it comes up for a vote again.

"I'm certainly concerned that proponents (of the amendment) are not willing to accept the fact that it came up for a vote and it failed," she said, referring to last week's vote.