By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - The Kentucky House, capping weeks of emotional debate, passed a proposed constitutional amendment Monday night to prohibit same-sex marriages and deny legal recognition of civil unions.
After their defeat, gay-rights activists sang "We Shall Overcome" outside the House chamber. The dramatic late-night vote put the proposal one step away from reaching the November ballot.
Demonstrators outside the House of Representatives chamber prior to the legislative session Monday.
The measure was revived after a closed-door meeting by majority House Democrats and intense lobbying by supporters of the marriage amendment.
The proposal passed 85-11. It now returns to the Senate for a final vote on Tuesday, the final day of the 2004 General Assembly session.
Opponents said the measure amounted to "gay bashing."
"I will never vote to put discrimination in the Kentucky Constitution," said Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville, her voice rising with anger.
Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said amendment supporters had bowed to political pressure to "make themselves more popular with religious zealots back home."
Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, said he had been waiting for weeks to vote for the measure, which has turned the Capitol into a cultural battleground as activists on both sides staged competing rallies.
"In my opinion it's one of the most pressing problems that we have in the country at this time," Gray said.
The proposed amendment to Kentucky's Constitution would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Before its final vote, the House restored language that also would deny recognition of civil unions. It was that broader version that passed the Senate with bipartisan support last month.
The House also removed language added by a committee that would have prohibited courts from imposing mandates on the General Assembly.
"I think what we saw today was a victory for the defense of marriage," said Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation, a Lexington-based conservative group leading the push for the proposed amendment.
Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, said gay-rights activists would take their case to the public if the marriage amendment reaches the ballot.
"We're part of everyone's families, everyone's workplaces, everyone's schools, everyone's neighborhoods," she said.
Kentucky law already prohibits same-sex marriages.
Supporters of the proposed amendment insist that writing the prohibition into the constitution was the only way to cement it.
But Rep. Paul Bather, D-Louisville, predicted the proposed amendment would end up in court before the public gets a chance to vote on it. Bather, who is leaving the General Assembly after this session, said he would work to fight the amendment.
"Get your lawyers because the battle has just begun," Bather said.
Last month, the House defeated a version that would have banned same-sex marriages but was silent on civil unions. It failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to go on the ballot when House Republicans staged a dramatic walkout. They were protesting a decision by the Democratic majority to curtail debate and quash Republican amendments.
Earlier Monday, House members were greeted by activists on both sides of the emotional issue as they returned after a two-week break.
Gay-rights activists sang, chanted and held placards opposing the proposed constitutional amendment.
Michael Roberts, a senior at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, said the proposal would deny gays and lesbians a fundamental right.
"Think about all the benefits that you get from being married, from having someone that you share your lives with," he said.
"And to completely shut us off from that, from any possibility of ever having any kind of legal recognition of love or commitment, that really puts us in a box and really stunts our emotional growth."
A small group of pro-amendment activists huddled to pray Monday as others held signs, including one that said, "What Part of Thou Shall Not Don't You Understand."
The legislation is Senate Bill 245.
On the Net: http://www.lrc.state.ky.us
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