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Friday, May 19, 2006 - Page updated at 03:44 PM

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Washington has an amendment that bans gay marriage. Washington has a Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the Legislature in 1998, that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriage vote ignites tempers in Senate

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — 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."

"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."

The panel voted 10-8 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.

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

Not all those who voted "yes" support the amendment. Specter said he is "totally opposed" to it but believed 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.

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

Gay marriage has been a hot topic since Massachusetts' top court ruled in 2003 that the state Legislature could not ban it, paving the way for the nation's first same-sex marriages in May 2004.

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At least 12 states have passed amendments banning gay marriage while two — Vermont and Connecticut — have legalized civil unions.

The Washington state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of the state law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Two lower courts have struck down the law.

Material from Reuters and The Seattle Times archive is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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