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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gay marriage ban loses in Senate

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Idaho’s state Senate defeated a much-debated anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on Wednesday.

“I’d given it an awful lot of thought,” said Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, who cast one of 14 votes against the amendment. “I think it’s just one of these divisive things.”

Idaho law already bans same-sex marriage. SJR 101 would have gone a step further by amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and to outlaw recognition of any type of civil union or domestic partnership, whether between same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

Lead sponsor Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, noted that voters in 11 states have enacted anti-gay marriage measures.

“People want this,” he said.

Said co-sponsor Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, “We are under attack – the family is under attack.”

But Compton said he wasn’t convinced. “There is no horde of people advocating alternate lifestyles coming over the wall at us,” he said.

Compton spoke out during the more than hourlong Senate debate on the measure. He said he opposes gay marriage but decided the amendment was unnecessary.

“The message I’ve gotten from my citizens is, why don’t you guys pay attention to some of the stuff we’re really worried about down there?” Compton said, noting the high cost of prescription drugs, the shortage of foster parents and pressing water issues.

“If my voters … feel that I’ve made the wrong decision, they’ll have a chance to vote and they can send somebody else down here in a couple years to look after this,” Compton said.

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, was one of 16 senators co-sponsoring the measure, but he kept quiet during the Senate debate. So did Sens. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who voted in favor of the measure.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Senate that he hadn’t planned on debating the bill, but was struck Wednesday morning by the two locks on the door of his Boise residence. He said he feels “pretty secure” with those two locks. He could put on another deadbolt, he said, and it would be even safer – but it wouldn’t be worth doing. SJR 101, he said, was like another deadbolt.

“Do we really need that?” he asked. “Do we really need to waste our time and money on a device that will really only offer us … peace of mind? And who gets to benefit by selling us that second deadbolt lock?”

McKenzie and Sweet cited a litany of court decisions in other states that they said suggest Idaho’s anti-gay marriage law could be overturned in court.

But Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, said Idaho’s law is stronger than those in other states. “Why should we let other states with inferior systems stampede us into changing our system?” he asked.

Little said Utah enacted a similar measure and now is having to pass laws to clean up problems about medical decisions, determining who can visit in the hospital and other questions for people who simply live together.

“These aren’t for gay couples – this could be for two 80-year-old nuns that live together in Cottonwood, Idaho,” Little said. “It’s the old rule of unintended consequences.”

Little, who is the GOP caucus chairman in the Senate, said, “As a traditional Idaho Republican with a spice of libertarianism, I prefer as few laws as possible. … Nothing’s changed as far as our position about the family. The constitution should not be willy-nilly amended. … The evidence that exists out there right now is this is not necessary.”

Sen. Don Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, said his calls have been running 3-to-1 in favor of the amendment. If both houses of the Legislature were to pass it by a two-thirds margin, it would go to the people for a vote in the next general election.

“We’re afraid to let the people of the state vote on this issue,” Burtenshaw said. “Don’t we think that they’re smart enough to make this decision?”

He added, “Whether you like it or not, we’ve set around and let different things deteriorate our morality.”

At the close of the debate, which came before a Senate gallery packed with onlookers, Sweet said it “breaks my heart” to hear senators say the issue isn’t worth taking up the Senate’s time. “I can think of no issue than family that is more important for us to debate in this body, ever,” he said.

The measure failed with 21 votes in favor and 14 against. It needed 24 votes to pass with the required two-thirds margin.

After the vote, McKenzie said he wouldn’t bring the measure back this year. Sweet said, “Whether it’ll come back this year or next year, this will come back. We’ll try to convince three people of the merits of this bill.”