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Gay marriage debate simmers at local political forum

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A pair of Columbus-area legislators expect the anti-gay marriage amendment to come to a floor vote in the Senate within the next week. But they doubt the broader issue of balancing traditional marriage with civil liberties of all citizens will be quickly put to rest.

“I don’t think we’ll find a solution that makes everybody happy,” said state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, speaking to an overflow crowd at Monday’s Third House question-and-answer session at City Hall.

The once-a-week sessions allow voters to talk informally with members of the General Assembly. Recent sessions have been dominated by the marriage amendment.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said he is trying to craft a novel approach that protects traditional marriage but also preserves civil liberties for everyone, including gay couples.

A two-year delay in sending any amendment to voters would allow more time for public opinion and court rulings to play out on the national stage, Walker told the local crowd of about 80 people.

“I don’t think a two-year delay is a dodge,” he said.

Gay rights supporters say they would prefer not having any definition of marriage in the state constitution.

Ann Blaisdell Smith, a Columbus voter who attended the Third House session, told the two legislators she has two sons — one straight and one gay.

“I brought both of them up to believe in justice and liberty,” she said. “I don’t know how the state can say that one of them has rights and the other one doesn’t.”

Dana Harrison, who works for Cummins, said she changed her gender from male to female after being married to a woman for 29 years and raising a family.

Harrison is a deacon at First Presbyterian Church and said she “doesn’t want one brand of faith telling me how to live. What about my rights to the pursuit of happiness?”

Rep. Smith said he is defending current state law that defines marriage as only being “between one man and one woman.” Placing that view of marriage in the state constitution will give it more weight in court challenges, he believes.

The marriage amendment has taken a twisting route to the Senate. After being switched from one House committee to a more favorable one last month, the amendment passed the House Elections Committee on a 9-3 vote.

Smith is chairman of that committee.

Then, the full House agreed on a 52-43 vote to drop a second clause, which read “that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

That version eventually passed the full House on a 57-40 vote.

Wiping away the second sentence has become a key issue because that switch effectively pushes back the date the amendment can go on a statewide ballot by at least two years — until 2016. That’s because an amendment must be approved with the exact same wording by two consecutive General Assembly sessions.

Meanwhile, lower courts have ruled against anti-gay marriage laws in Oklahoma and Utah.

A federal judge ruled Oklahoma’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. Another judge reversed Utah’s gay-marriage ban, which had been in effect since voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2004. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Utah’s appeal of that lower court ruling in April.

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