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Ga. voters to decide on gay marriage ban

/ Source: The Associated Press

Georgia voters will decide this fall whether to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, even if the unions are performed in other states.

The Georgia House approved the ban 122-52 on Wednesday.

Gay marriage already is illegal in Georgia, but the matter is not addressed in its constitution. Amendment supporters said the law would not prevent a judge from allowing same-sex couples to marry.

“We cannot let judges in Boston, or officials in San Francisco, define marriage for the people of Georgia,” said GOP Rep. Bill Hembree, the amendment’s sponsor, referring to other hotspots in the national debate over gay marriage.

The amendment was narrowly defeated by the Democratic House in February after breezing through the Republican-controlled Senate earlier this year.

Last time, nearly all black lawmakers opposed the amendment, comparing the gay rights debate to the civil rights struggle. But after heavy lobbying from black clergymen and other social conservatives, several of those opponents voted yes, giving the amendment the needed two-thirds majority.

One opponent of the measure called Wednesday’s yes votes “unacceptable.”

“This limited the freedom of people! That’s unacceptable for a member of the minority caucus to be limiting freedom of another minority,” said Rep. Ron Sailor, a minister from Decatur.

Elsewhere, a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution stating that marriage exists only between one man and one woman won initial House approval.

In Rhode Island, the debate over same-sex marriage took a personal turn as the House majority leader announced publicly that he is gay.

Gordon Fox said he’s been in a committed relationship for six years and that he supports a bill that would allow same-sex marriages.

Competing bills have been offered in Rhode Island. One would allow same-sex marriages; another would define marriage as between a man and woman and make gay marriages approved in other states illegal.

Currently, 38 states have laws that define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Hearings in Rhode Island and other states have been spurred by a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in November that allows gay couples to marry. Same-sex weddings will become legal in Massachusetts in mid-May.

This week, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage, but legalize civil unions. Citizens would vote on the amendment in November 2006, at the earliest.

Massachusetts’ attorney general said Tuesday that a 91-year-old state law prevents the state from issuing licenses to out-of-state couples whose marriage would be illegal in their home states.