JEFFERSON CITY - A mock-vote to give gays and lesbians the right to a civil union in Missouri was overwhemlingly passed by high school students acting as senators and house representatives.
The students were participating in a YMCA model legislation held last week at the Capitol building.
The youth vote came just days after Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, proposed a resolution to allow Missouri voters to decided whether or not to uphold the Missouri state statue, passed in 1999, which bans same-sex marriages.
"Marriage has always been a holy institution," Steelman said. "It's the base of our families and communities and it's a value that the citizens of Missouri have the right to vote on."
The mock bill gave same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the same benefits and protections given by Missori law to married opposite-sex couples.
"Without the right to a civil union gays and lesbians are living as second class citizens," said Noel Ottman, acting as a lobbyist from Lee's Summit.
A Gallup poll taken in October showed that 53% of the 18-29 year olds polled supported marriages between same-sex couples.
"Not giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights as straight couples is gender discrimination," said Chris Borgesuh of Mexico.
Though the mock-billed passed with ease, there was debate amongst the students about the use of the term marriage to define a same-sex union. Many said they would not have voted for the bill had it used the term marriage instead of civil union.
"I am opposed to giving homosexuals the right to marry because marriage is a religious rite," Diana Harintho, an acting senator from Ladue, said. "However, I voted for the civil union bill because same-sex couples deserve the legal benefits that married couples are provided."
The Massachusetts Supreme Court's recent lift of the state ban against same-sex marriages could effect the Missouri ban.
Under the "Full faith and credit clause" of the constitution, Missouri residents would be entitled to the same rights of citizens in other states amd thus Massachusets married same-sex couples would be recognized as married in Missouri as well.
Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St.Louis County, who voted for the state's ban in 1999 because "it's not the normal thing that people do" says that she will have to rethink her choice before voting on the proposed resolution.
"Because we've gone to the extreme side of things, the landscape of this country has faced some major problems," she said.
Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St.Louis County, who voted against the ban in 1999, says he believes a bill using the term civil union rather than marriage "may the best and most acceptable avenue at this time."
"There are people in same-sex relationships who are very committed in lifetime partnerships and deserve a legal union for tax and insurance purposes," he said.