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'Gay' Marriage Pushed to Center of US Political Debate - 2004-02-15


Recent developments on both U.S. coasts have pushed the issue of marriage between two people of the same sex into American headlines. Authorities in San Francisco have officially married hundreds of gay and lesbian couples since Thursday. At the same time, lawmakers in Massachusetts failed to agree on an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.

Drivers honking their support added to the party atmosphere in front of San Francisco's City Hall - where for the past few days, hundreds of same-sex couples have waited in line for hours to take their marriage vows and get official papers recognizing their union.

City mayor Gavin Newsom launched a campaign Thursday to recognize gay and lesbian marriages, as a direct challenge to California state laws that ban such same-sex marriage. Mayor Newsom ordered City Hall to remain open during the weekend and a national holiday Monday to cope with the unprecedented crush of marriage applicants.

The Alliance Defense Fund on Friday filed a lawsuit to try to stop the gay marriages in San Francisco. A California superior court judge has scheduled a hearing on the first working day after the holiday, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, across the country, Massachusetts lawmakers rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have defined marriage as strictly a union between a man and a woman. State lawmakers will take up the issue again next month.

The highest Massachusetts court last year struck down a ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional, and gave the state's lawmakers until May to fix the problem.

On the CBS program Face the Nation, television and radio commentator James Dobson spoke out against what he called efforts to undermine traditional heterosexual marriage around the country. Mr. Dobson especially blasted the San Francisco mayor, saying the official is going against the wishes of the majority of Californians who voted against same-sex marriage in a 2000 referendum. "What happened in California in the last few days has been an absolute outrage," he said. "I mean, the people of California passed a constitutional amendment indicating that marriage was between one man and one woman, by a 61 to 39 percent majority. And now this mayor comes along and just abrogates the law, and it is no longer rule of law."

Meanwhile, on Fox News Sunday, Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who is homosexual, said legally recognizing gay marriages would not threaten heterosexual marriages. Congressman Frank added that same-sex couples would welcome the chance to be officially married in some states, even if their union is not recognized by all 50 U.S. states. "We had a situation in this country - we all now deplore it - where inter-racial marriages were allowed in some states and not recognized in other states. We have had situations where states have had differential rules on the age at which you could marry," he said.

Both houses of Congress are expected to discuss a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriages throughout the United States. A bill on that issue has already been introduced in the House of Representatives. Senate majority leader Bill Frist last week said the Senate will take it up soon.

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