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KWAME HOLMAN: Portland, Ore., became the latest venue for gay marriages today, as couples lined up to tie the knot. Multnomah County commissioners said denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples would violate Oregon’s constitution.
LIS NAITO: The constitution of this state is crystal clear in this matter. I personally am committed to equal rights and equal protection for every person in this county and in this state. It is my duty to support and fully embrace the fundamental tenets on which our great nation is founded: That all people should be treated equally under the law.
KWAME HOLMAN: On the other side of the country in New York today, an official took a different view of the legal status of same-sex marriage in his state. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
ELIOT SPITZER: Those are not proper marriages, are not legal marriages pursuant to the statute. But the ultimate constitutionality and legality of those marriages will be determined only subsequent to a constitutional challenge that will almost inevitably move through the courts.
KWAME HOLMAN: The attorney general’s decision came in response to endorsement of same- sex marriages by mayors in two New York towns.
SPOKESMAN: By the power invested in me by the state of New York, I now declare you legally wed. (Cheers and applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: In New Paltz, the mood was festive last Friday as Mayor Jason West performed 25 same-sex ceremonies. West was arraigned today on charges he knew some couples did not have marriage licenses, but said he would continue to marry couples from a waiting list of 1,000.
MAYOR JASON WEST: I have broken no laws and I intend to proceed the ceremonies on Saturday, unless I am advised otherwise by my attorneys.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sixty miles away in Nyack, N.Y., Mayor John Shields announced today he would marry gay couples, and wed his own same-sex partner as early as this week.
The burst of same-sex marriages got started in November when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled gays have a constitutional right to wed. Then beginning last month, thousands have tied the knot in San Francisco, many coming from out of state for the chance to wed, including television personality Rosie O’Donnell and her longtime partner. In New Mexico two weeks ago, 66 couples were married in ceremonies that later were ruled invalid by the state’s attorney general.
Several states are moving against same-sex marriages. In Georgia this week, hundreds of demonstrators on both sides of the issue swarmed the state capital, where legislators are debating an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage. The roiling over the issue increased last week when President Bush called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing gay marriage. But other republicans have questioned that.
This week California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on the “Tonight Show” that he opposed such an amendment. And in Washington today, there were dueling press conferences on the issue. The human rights campaign said an amendment would write discrimination into the Constitution. And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who opposes gay marriages, said they would spread like wildfire if Congress doesn’t act soon. The Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Law held a hearing on the issue today. Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas said the proliferation of same-sex weddings made passage of the amendment essential.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Why is an amendment necessary? Two words: activist judges. The only way to save laws deemed unconstitutional by activist judges is a constitutional amendment.
KWAME HOLMAN: Russ Feingold, the committee’s top Democrat, called the amendment effort election-year politicking.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: I believe a constitutional amendment on marriage is unnecessary, divisive, and utterly inconsistent with our constitutional traditions, which this subcommittee has a special responsibility to protect. I object to the use of the constitutional amendment process for political purposes, and I am sorry to say that I believe that is exactly what is going on here.
KWAME HOLMAN: African-American minister Richard Richardson rejected the argument that banning gay marriages is discrimination.
REV. RICHARD RICHARDSON: The traditional institute of marriage is not discrimination, and I find it rather offensive to call it that. Marriage was not created to oppress people; it was created for children. It boggles my mind that people would compare the traditional institution of marriage to slavery.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chuck Muth of a citizens’ group argued against tinkering with the Constitution.
CHUCK MUTH: We open up the door just a crack, and then it gets pushed open a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more, and the next thing you know you have an 800-pound gorilla sitting in your midst. I’m afraid that once we start down that road by amending the Constitution for the purpose of defining marriage as between as between one man and one woman, that that’s going to open up the possibility of amending our Constitution in the future for all kinds of other aspects, and this is of great concern to me.
KWAME HOLMAN: Congressional leaders are divided on whether to push for a vote on a constitutional amendment this year, but the issue of gay marriage already has become part of the presidential campaign debate.