WASHINGTON — A Senate panel advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage Thursday as the committee chairman shouted "good riddance" to a Democrat who walked out of the tense session.
"If you want to leave, good riddance," Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), who refused to participate because, he said, the meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.
"I've enjoyed your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman," Feingold said before storming out of the private room where the meeting took place.
The exchange highlighted tensions over the proposal, which seeks to amend the Constitution to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The measure passed 10 to 8 on a party-line vote. Specter said he voted for the amendment because he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate, even though he did not back it.
A ban on same-sex marriage is one of several hot-button social issues Republicans are raising to rally conservative voters ahead of November's congressional elections.
Because the measure seeks to change the Constitution, it must pass both chambers of Congress by a two-thirds majority and then be approved by at least 38 states.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill in early June.
The bill's sponsor told reporters he did not expect it to pass the Senate but wanted to keep the issue in the public eye.
"If we quit bringing it up here and talking about it here, in effect we leave the decision-making process to the judicial side," Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said.
A similar constitutional effort failed in the Senate in 2004.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the ban was a waste of time when other issues were pressing, including judicial nominations and oversight of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.