SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State representatives voted Tuesday to endorse a constitutional change banning gay marriage, saying it was necessary to fight off changing social norms.
Utah legislators in the House and Senate already sent the governor the Marriage Recognition Policy, which would put the gay marriage ban in state law.
But the Utah House of Representatives took that one step farther Tuesday, mustering a two-thirds vote to send voters a proposed amendment to Utah's Constitution.
The constitutional provision, saying "marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman," passed the House on a 56-16 vote. If approved by the Utah Senate and voters this November, it would take effect in January.
Republicans said it was necessary to resist court rulings and legislative actions in other states that could force Utah to recognize same-sex unions they oppose on moral grounds.
"I am not telling you that God does not love people who are gay. God loves gays as well as anyone else, but we have a right to declare what is nature's laws," said Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas.
Massachusetts' top court has ordered that state to issue gay couples marriage licenses starting May 17. Vermont sanctions marriage-like civil unions for gay couples, while California, Hawaii and New Jersey grant various state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners.
In San Francisco, more than 3,200 same-sex couples have been married since Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to give out the licenses Feb. 12. California officials are moving to overturn those marriages.
In Utah, Democrats said banning gay marriages wouldn't make this country stronger.
"I've heard it said over and again: this is about civilization, to protect the downfall of our civilization," said Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City. "I'm struggling. How is my life, my marriage, going to be made more stable or stronger by this amendment?"
Some legislators are trying to change the Constitution for the wrong reason, said Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake City, a former state district judge. He said the Constitution was meant to limit government power, not individual liberty.
"An individual can't violate the Constitution; only the government can," said Daniels, a member of the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission, which never got a chance to review the legislative proposal.
"This changes that. It's a whole new thing. This says what a citizen can't do, not what the government can't do," he said.
Many western European countries have some form of civil unions for same-sex couples, who can get married in the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Canada.
Those nations are "not fraying at the seams but flourishing under equality," said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, the only known gay member of the Utah Legislature.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said marriage has defined civilization since the birth of Jesus, who "loved all people, blessed all people -- but he didn't lower his standards while he was doing it."
"Let us reaffirm the tradition and legal definition of marriage," he said.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)