Without much fanfare, the controversial proposal to ban same-sex marriage in the CNMI passed the House of Representatives Friday.
The proposed measure, House Legislative Initiative 14-3, received 15 yes votes and one abstention, coming from House Education committee chairman Rep. Justo Quitugua.
“It’s a very sensitive morality issue and I preferred to abstain from voting,” said Quitugua.
The initiative, authored by House Speaker Benigno R. Fitial, aims to amend Section 5 of Article II of the CNMI Constitution by adding a new subsection limiting legislative authority in enacting laws relating to marriage.
The initiative, which earlier garnered strong expressions of support and opposition from groups and individuals, aims to make it “a public policy of the Commonwealth to protect the unique relationship of marriage and that only the union of one man and woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in the Commonwealth and the Legislature may enact no law inconsistent with the public policy of marriage.”
In a report submitted by the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, chaired by Rep. Jesus Lizama, the panel cited that 40 states in the U.S. have laws or state constitutional amendments that ban marriage between same-sex couples.
Massachusetts, it said, is currently the only state that issues gay marriage licenses.
Other places like San Francisco; Sandoval County, New Mexico; and Multnomah County, Oregon, which initially allowed same-sex marriage early this year, no longer grant such licenses, the committee said.
Earlier, the Attorney General’s Office raised concerns that the measure would impede several constitutional rights under Commonwealth law.
Acting attorney general Clyde Lemons then said the issue embraces more than one article of the CNMI Constitution and does not merely amend Article II directly.
He said the measure also aims to amend rights allowed under Article I by denying equal protection of the law to certain persons in the area of marriage, prevent the Legislature from enacting laws that would outlaw discrimination based on sex in the area of marriage and by creating a constitutional public policy in favor of sex-based classifications in the area of marriage.
Also, Lemons said the measure would violate the right to privacy in the personal decision to marry and the liberty interests of individuals by intruding into the private realm of decision whether to marry a person of one’s choice.
The House, however, indicated that the measure merely protects the sanctity of marriage, which is enshrined in the Constitution.