[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommitee on the Constitution [official website] approved a proposed constitutional amendment, the Marriage Protection Amendment [PDF text], in a 5-4 vote Wednesday. The amendment, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, will now go before the full judiciary committee and is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate next year. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], chair of the Judiciary Committee, voted in favor of allowing the amendment to proceed, and said that although he opposes the amendment it shouldn't "be bottled up" in committee. The amendment wouldn't take effect until it is approved by two-thirds of the US House and Senate and ratified by at least 38 state legislatures. Critics of the marriage amendment say the decision on whether to recognize same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] should be left up to the states. Nineteen states have passed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, including Texas, where voters approved a same-sex marriage ban [JURIST report; Proposition 2 text] earlier this week. AP has more.