An amendment to the Michigan Constitution that would ban gay
marriage overcame its first legislative hurdle last Tuesday,
coinciding with President Bush’s pledge of support for a
federal marriage amendment.

The state House Family and Children’s Services Committee
voted 6 to 0 in favor of the resolution, sponsored by Rep. Gary
Newell (R-Saranac), that would amend the state constitution to
define marriage as between a man and woman.

The six Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the
measure, while all three Democrats abstained.

The committee’s vote came on the same day that President
Bush announced his support for an amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, prompting accusations by state House Democrats that
the committee’s vote was a product of coordination between
the national and state Republican parties.

“I don’t think it was a coincidence,” said
Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), adding that the committee was given
an unusually short one-day notice before the vote.

But Republicans brushed off the allegations.

“I did not make that decision based on political
considerations,” said committee Chairman Lauren Hager (R-Port
Huron Twp.). “I based it on that it was the right time to do
it.

“I simply see this effort as preserving marriage as it has
been known throughout the millennia,” Hager added.

Michigan, like 38 other states, already has a Defense of
Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and woman. But
supporters of the new measure argue that a constitutional amendment
is necessary to prevent a situation like that in Massachusetts,
where a state court ruled last year that a ban on gay marriage was
unconstitutional.

Kolb, however, saw more cynical motives behind the push for a
gay marriage amendment.

“There are two groups of people driving this movement, not
only here in Michigan but across the country — those who are
opposed to gay marriage and those who are using it as a political
wedge issue,” he said.

If the measure passes with two-thirds majorities in the state
House and Senate, it will be placed on a statewide ballot for
voters to decide in either the August or November election.

Matt Resch, spokesman for House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-Leroy),
said the speaker supports the resolution and intends to place it on
the November ballot.

“That election will have a high turnout, because
it’s a presidential year,” Resch said.
“It’s important that on an issue like this, amending
the state constitution, a lot of people get to vote on
it.”

But Kolb, the Legislature’s only openly gay member,
accused state Republicans of using the measure to tip the November
election in the favor of Republican candidates.

“It does two things — it brings out conservative
voters, who will vote for Republicans, and it brings out a wedge
between Democratic candidates and their traditional
supporters,” Kolb said.

He added that he believes this strategy is a joint effort
between the national and state Republican parties.“I think
there is coordination going on,” Kolb said. “I think
there are people in the national party, for political reasons,
pushing for this type of resolution.”

He conceded, however, that he could not prove such coordination
had taken place. “Obviously I’m not in the room when it
happens,” Kolb said.

In order to pass the House with a two-thirds majority, the
resolution will need 73 votes. Democratic leaders noted that, even
if all 63 Republicans vote for the amendment, it will die in the
House without the votes of at least 10 Democrats.

Exacerbating the problem for the amendment’s supporters,
some Republicans have said they will not vote for the resolution,
Kolb said.

“There’s a group who are very uncomfortable having
to vote for it — they do believe it’s discriminatory,
and others as a policy issue think it goes too far,” he
said.

At least one House Republican, Rep. Lorence Wenke (R-Richland),
has declared opposition to the proposed amendment, calling it
discriminatory.

Kolb predicted that, with Democrats more united against the
amendment than Republicans are behind it, there would not be enough
votes for the measure to advance to the Senate.

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