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Lawmakers in several states seek tougher bans on gay marriage

Despite laws on the books already barring gay marriage, legislators in at least nine states are pushing for new, more sweeping measures in hopes of preventing any ripple effect from laws and court rulings elsewhere.

In most cases, lawmakers in states with existing Defense of Marriage acts seek to go a step further by amending their constitutions to specify that marriage must be heterosexual. State Rep. Bill Graves, a bill sponsor in Oklahoma, wants to stipulate that same-sex unions are "repugnant to the public policy" of the state.

Supporters say the constitutional amendments are necessary to ensure that legislation and court judgments in other states _ such as the recent ruling in favor of gay marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court _ will not compel recognition of same-sex unions in their own states.

Gay rights activists criticized the amendment campaign.

"This is a political attack, motivated by fierce anti-gay opponents who want to slam us again and again," said Evan Wolfson of the group Freedom to Marry.

In all, 37 states and the federal government have Defense of Marriage acts that say marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Ohio may soon become the 38th state; its Senate approved one of the most far-reaching gay marriage bans in the nation Wednesday, making only minor changes in a House-passed version.

Proposed constitutional amendments that would ban gay marriage have been introduced in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Michigan; one is expected soon in Alabama. An Idaho Republican, Rep. Henry Kulczyk, plans to introduce a similar measure there.

Massachusetts does not have a Defense of Marriage Act, but the high court ruling there has sparked debate and an anti-gay marriage amendment has been proposed by its lawmakers as well.

In Virginia, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution Friday urging Congress to support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as heterosexual. The resolution now goes to the Senate.

"We don't want to be left in the lurch where the measure we passed overwhelmingly several years ago is stricken down by the high court of this country," said the resolution's sponsor, Robert McConnell, referring to Virginia's existing Defense of Marriage Act.

Georgia's proposed amendment _ which could go on the November general election ballot _ was presented Wednesday in the state Senate. Any change to traditional marriage "begins to tear at the foundations of our institutions," said Senate Republican leader Bill Stephens.

The American Friends Service Committee _ a Quaker social justice group _ this week joined the campaign against the proposed amendment in Michigan. In Kentucky, about 30 gay rights supporters protested Wednesday at the state Capitol, many carrying signs saying, "Anti-marriage amendments hurt my family."

Pending final resolution of the Massachusetts court ruling, no state allows full-fledged same-sex marriages. Vermont recognizes marriage-like civil unions, while California, Hawaii and New Jersey grant various rights to same-sex couples registered as domestic partners. Legislators in Maryland and Colorado hope to get civil union legislation considered by their colleagues this session.