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Alaska senators quietly back marriage amendment


June 07, 2006

WASHINGTON - A constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage inspired long and sometimes lofty argument Tuesday in the U.S. Senate, but Alaska's senators stayed on the sidelines.

Sen. Ted Stevens had little to say when a reporter asked him about the amendment in the hallway outside the Senate chamber.

"I'm for the marriage amendment," said Stevens, R-Alaska. "I've just voted that way in the past and I haven't changed."



The federal marriage amendment is similar to an amendment Alaska voters approved to the state constitution in 1998. Both define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The bill the Senate debated Tuesday, all sides agree, has very little chance of getting the 67 votes it needs to clear the Senate. Its sponsors say that shouldn't preclude a full airing.

"We're here to debate the big issues, and this is a big issue," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Democrats say conservatives are just using the issue to rally their faithful in an election year.

"Save the pandering for the right-wing supporters on the campaign trail," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Amendment proponents, as they did two years ago, the last time the Senate took it up, focused on the benefits of traditional marriage, which they say would be undermined if it is redefined. Children do better in a home with two parents, they say, and the spouses are happier, healthier and wealthier.

"We know from all the research that the deterioration of marriage has led to increased poverty, child abuse, more crime, a lot of social maladies," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "We've got an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. One out of every three children in this country are born out of wedlock. And divorces are rampant."

Opponents, though, said the amendment would write bigotry into the constitution.

"If we are a democracy, we allow others to be different from ourselves," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, didn't take to the floor. She plans to vote for the amendment, spokesman Kevin Sweeney said. She wants to protect the marriage definition Alaskans adopted for themselves from a court decision that might impose another state's law, he said.

"However, she has not been actively involved in the debate because she's been focused on other issues that are more pressing for the state and the nation," he said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told listeners of the Alaska Public Radio Network on Tuesday that he didn't consider the amendment a top priority and didn't think it would pass the Senate. But he said he'd vote for it.

His spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, said he believes morally that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The issue raises competing values for him.

Two years ago, Young said he'd be hard-pressed to vote for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage. He didn't support gay marriage, he said, but he believed each state should define marriage for itself.

"I'm not going to tell every state what to do," he said at the time.



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