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Gay-rights extremists in Hawaii are trying to use the Constitution to force all states to accept same-sex marriages, witnesses told a House committee considering a bill that would define marriage in federal law.

To head them off, Congress should quickly pass the bill, which would define marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman," said three state legislators: Rep. Deborah Whyman, a Republican from Michigan; Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican; and Rep. Terrance W.H. Tom, a Hawaii Democrat.Gay-rights groups "are trying to accomplish through judicial fiat what they could never accomplish via the legislative process," Whyman told the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution subcommittee.

"I'm here today asking you to stop the extremists and allow the states to regulate marriage without the interference of another state's courts," she said Wednesday.

The bill would give states authority to reject the legality of same-sex marriages performed in any other state. But it wouldn't block any state from conferring its own legal status on same-sex unions, said the bill's sponsor Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.

Barr said something needs to be done to keep gay marriage invalid under federal law to make it clear that same-sex couples are ineligible for various federal benefits, including Social Security.

Barr said he introduced the bill in response to a gay-rights case that could make Hawaii the first state to recognize same-sex marriages. If such marriages were ruled legal in Hawaii, the Constitution would require that all other states accept gay marriages performed there as legal, he said.

The Constitution generally entitles a law in one state to "full faith and credit" in all the other states. That's why a couple considered married in Hawaii also is considered legally wed in all other states.

But opponents of the bill, including some who personally oppose gay marriage, told the hearing that the bill was an attempt to whip up anti-gay sentiment during a presidential election year.

"The Republican national campaign is not doing very well, and there is a concerted effort to change the subject," said Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts.

President Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., both have said they oppose same-sex marriages.