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Sen. Feingold walks out as Marriage Amendment Hearing moved behind closed doors

by Michael Rogers

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved its meeting today -- including the "mark-up" of a US Constitutional Amendment to restrict marriage equality -- from a public room in a Senate office building to the restricted access President's Room, off the floor of the Senate chamber, inside the US Capitol. According to a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign, the room "is not open to the public and does not even have enough chairs for every Senator on the committee to sit."

Sources have confirmed to PageOneQ that a heated exchange took place at the meeting between Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), pictured, the committee's ranking Democratic member, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the panel.

According to an observer of the meeting, Feingold expressed his dismay that the meeting had been moved and his desire not to assist the committee in reaching a quorum. "Don't lecture me," Specter said to Feingold, before the Wisconsin Senator walked out of the meeting. Feingold was recently recognized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in part for his staunch support of full marriage equality for all Americans.

The Associated Press reported a fuller account of the exchange between the two senators:

"I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., shouted after Sen. Russ Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment, his affinity for the Constitution and his intention to leave the meeting.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," Specter finished.

"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman," replied Feingold, D-Wis., who is considering a run for president in 2008. "See ya."

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign was swift in his reaction. Within minutes of the meeting's end he said in a statement, "Using the Constitutional amendment process as a political tool is bad enough, but doing it behind closed doors is appalling."

Senator Feingold's Office issued a statement in which the Senator said, "Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee [Specter] went forward with the markup over my objection."

Correction: The initial version of this article said the committee was one of the United States House of Representatives. The committee meeting was one of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee.


Originally published on Thursday May 18, 2006.

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