Sen. Lee Bright opens S.C. flag debate with gay marriage rant

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a contentious day of debate, the South Carolina House on Thursday passed a bill that would remove the Confederate battle flag and flagpole from a memorial on the Capitol grounds.
The 94-20 vote came just after 1 a.m. ET Thursday after more than 13 hours of arguments that sometimes turned emotional, even tearful.
The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said she would sign it. The flag could come down in just days.
The state Senate voted earlier this week to remove the flag and flagpole.
In a Facebook post, Haley wrote, "Today, as the Senate did before them, the House of Representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity. I'm grateful for their service and their compassion. It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state."
There was one last jolt before the House vote for passage. Shortly after midnight, the debate came to a surprising halt.

On an amendment early Thursday, a 60-60 vote kept alive a proposal to raise the South Carolina state flag on the pole where the rebel banner now flies. A number of members were stunned at the vote.
The bill passed by the Senate called for the pole and flag to be removed, and Haley told Republicans in a closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon that was what she wanted.
As the debate dragged on Wednesday night, lawmakers remained wedded to their positions on the controversial banner. As added insurance that the arguments would stretch in to the wee hours, the South Carolina House voted 111-3 to continue the debate.
House members committed to barreling through. In one case, a lawmaker went back on his own earlier announcement that he'd have to leave the debate to catch a late flight to Las Vegas. In spite of his earlier warning, Rep. Neal Collins, a Republican, walked into the state House chamber shortly after 11 p.m. and took his seat.

Supporters of the flag hold it up as a symbol of Southern pride while critics say it is a symbol of support for slavery and racism. Some state House members wanted a so-called "clean bill" with no amendments that would simply call for removal of the flag. Other lawmakers had called for amendments that address various issues, including how the flag would be displayed in a Confederate Relic Room at the statehouse. The debates ignited after Dylann Roof, a white man, opened fire inside an historic black church in Charleston on June 17, killing nine black people, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
One state House member made an impassioned and emotional speech warning her fellow lawmakers that if they attached any amendments to the bill, the debate would extend through the summer. Pointing to black lawmakers in the room, Rep. Jenny Horne, a Republican, said the flag was an affront to her friends and the state needed to take quick and decisive action to remove it.

"Let me tell you, I attended the funeral of Sen. Clementa Pinckney and the people of Charleston deserve immediate and swift removal of that flag from this grounds," Horne said. "I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday. And if any of you vote to amend, you are insuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday, and for the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury and I will not be a part of it."
Hours earlier, South Carolina state Rep. Mike Pitts assured the state House in the opening salvo of the debate that the flag would not be removed without a fight.
Throughout the day, the arguments moved at a snail's pace. Faced with more than 25 amendments, lawmakers had dispatched just seven by dinner time.
The session began with Democratic Rep. Wendell Gilliard reading of the names of the victims of the shooting rampage at a historic black church in Charleston three weeks ago. Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine people, and photographs of Roof with Confederate flags fueled the drive to remove the flag here.
"The right thing to do is what we call the healing thing, the laying down of the past," Gilliard said. He emphasized that numerous family members of the victims had urged that the flag be permanently removed.
"Folks from Charleston, I feel your pain," Pitts said to kick off the debate Wednesday. But he said the flag represented brave men who fought against "Northern aggression."

Pitts, a Republican from Laurens, said his constituents want the flag to remain. He said he grew up with it as part of his heritage.
"I didn't see an issue with it then and I don't see an issue with it now," he said.
Pitts has said he wants the battle flag replaced with another Confederate flag, that of the South Carolina Volunteers. He proposed dozens of amendments to the flag bill, and spent much of Wednesday at the podium pressing his case.
A few GOP colleagues spoke in support of some of his proposals. Rep. Bill Sandifer recalled the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of Roof's victims, and said the state had become a "poster child" for how to handle a crisis.
He said the state has adopted more of a "bless your heart attitude" than an "in your face" attitude.
An amendment to put the flag in a glass case near where it now flies was among several proposals quickly rejected by a lopsided vote. So too was a Pitts proposal to place a bronze casting of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment Flag on the Statehouse grounds.
Pitts invoked a Civil War analogy Tuesday when he said he would "fight until I have nothing left to fight with" to keep some type of Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. Democratic leaders, however, urged House GOP members to approve a "clean" bill.

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