updated 5/18/2006 12:13:33 PM ET 2006-05-18T16:13:33

A Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage Thursday, after a shouting match that ended when one Democrat strode out and the Republican chairman bid him “good riddance.”

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“I don’t need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

“If you want to leave, good riddance,” Specter finished.

“I’ve enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman,” replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. “See ya.”

Passage seen as unlikely
Amid increasing partisan tension over President Bush’s judicial nominees and domestic wiretapping, the panel voted along party lines to send the constitutional amendment — which would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages — to the full Senate, where it stands little chance of passing.

Democrats complained that bringing up the amendment is a purely political move designed to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base in this year of midterm elections. Under the domed ceiling of the ornate and historic President’s Room off the Senate floor, senators voted 10-8 to send the measure forward.

Among Feingold’s objections was Specter’s decision to hold the vote in the President’s Room, where access by the general public is restricted, instead of in the panel’s usual home in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Specter later said he would have been willing to hold the session in the usual room had he thought doing so would change votes.

Not all those who voted “yes” support the amendment, however. Specter said he is “totally opposed” to it, but felt it deserved a debate in the Senate.

“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman,” reads the measure, which would require approval by two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states.

“Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman,” it says.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has scheduled a vote on the proposed amendment the week of June 5.

Political hot potato
The issue has ignited a cultural and political debate over what constitutes marriage and the legal rights of gay partners.

Earlier this week, Georgia announced it will appeal a judge’s ruling that struck down its voter-approved ban on gay marriage. Gov. Sonny Perdue said he will call a special legislative session if the state Supreme Court doesn’t rule on the issue soon.

The Georgia constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was approved by 76 percent of the state’s voters in November 2004. On Tuesday, however, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell ruled the measure violated the Georgia constitution’s single-subject rules for ballot questions.

The issue has been on the political radar across the nation for more than two years.

On Election Day in 2004, a presidential year, initiatives on gay marriage and civil unions were on the ballot in 11 states, driven in part by opposition to the Massachusetts state Supreme Judicial Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage and Republican calculations that the issue would send conservative voters to the polls.

Two states — Louisiana and Missouri — had approved bans earlier in the year.

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