Nethercutt opposes constitutional change to ban gay marriage

By Alex Fryer
Seattle Times Washington bureau


WASHINGTON In the midst of a heated Senate debate on gay marriage, there is surprising tranquility in the senatorial campaign in Washington state.

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane, who is expected to be the Republican challenger of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in November, released a short statement yesterday saying he does not support the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is scheduled for a Senate floor vote today.

That brings him in line with Murray, a Democrat, who has said she would vote against the bill. The state's other senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell, also opposes the measure.

The proposal calls for amending the U.S. Constitution to provide that marriage "shall consist only of a man and a woman." A second sentence says that neither the federal nor any state constitution "shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

Some critics argue that the effect of that provision would be to ban civil unions between same-sex couples.

Murray's office answered almost 4,000 phone calls about the amendment Monday, most in support of the proposal. That's in addition to thousands of e-mails, letters and faxes the office has received over the past week.

In an interview, Murray said she opposed changing the Constitution. "I am really concerned by an effort to use the Constitution to take away the rights of any individual," she said.

And she lambasted Republican leaders for bringing the marriage amendment to the floor when she said they knew it would fail. Measures to fund homeland security and address other issues have been bottled up in the Senate while time is carved out to talk about gay marriage, she said.

"This constitutional-amendment debate doesn't provide anybody a job," Murray said. "It doesn't provide health care for one family, and it doesn't help get our economy back on track."

In his prepared statement, Nethercutt reserved the right to change his mind about the amendment.

"If and only if activist judges force states like Washington to recognize other states' gay marriages, we should amend the constitution," he said.

Nethercutt declined interview requests yesterday.

Thousands of calls

At Redmond's Overlake Christian Church, senior Pastor Rick Kingham encouraged the approximately 4,000 people at his two sermons last Sunday to call Murray and Cantwell.

"I think it needs to be established and established by the entire country: This is what we view marriage to be," Kingham said.

Joseph Fuiten, senior pastor at the Cedar Park Assembly of God church in Bothell, said same-sex marriage will probably be the top issue for social conservatives in this year's elections.

Fuiten has introduced Nethercutt twice in his church and has told his congregants that he is supporting Nethercutt. But he disagrees with Nethercutt's stance of letting current laws and courts take their course on the issue.

"I don't like that idea because I don't think courts will be favorable to preserving authentic marriage and once they weigh in, it would be more difficult to override," Fuiten said.

Republican political consultant Jim Keough said Nethercutt's position is going to disappoint some supporters.

"That's going to play tough over in Eastern Washington. They'll not be supportive of it, but they'll find George's positions on other issues closer than Patty's," he said.

Some gay-rights activists say Murray's vote will help heal some wounds caused by her support of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being the union between one man and one woman.

Six years ago, when Murray was facing her first re-election, Bill Dubay, a longtime Democratic activist who is gay, pledged not to contribute to Murray's campaign because of her opposition to same-sex marriage.

While Murray still opposes gay marriage, Dubay said, "It's time to bury the hatchet."

"That (marriage) is not the issue today," he said. "The question is whether we should write discrimination into the Constitution. And her answer is no."

Asked whether Nethercutt's position wins him any points, Dubay responded: "He has given me no reason to trust him."

Seattle Times reporter Janet Tu contributed to this report.



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