Marriage would not include gay and lesbian unions if a new constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave,R-Colo.,is approved. The amendment would effectively take marriage out of the states and local courts’ hands.
Less than six months into her first term,Musgrave has sponsored House Joint Resolution 56,which would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
“Marriage has been defined as between a man and a woman for over 200 years,” said Guy Short,Musgrave's chief of staff. “It is not a prejudiced bill in any way,shape or form.”
However,openly gay Rep. Barney Frank,D-Mass.,said the amendment is designed to take away any marital rights of gays and lesbians. He said the amendment could make Vermont's laws allowing the civil unions of gays unconstitutional.
“It's really quite extraordinary,” Frank said. “It's an odd thing for members of Congress to be worrying about.”
Short said the constitutional amendment might be needed because a case in Massachusetts could start a string of lawsuits that could invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act,a federal law enacted in 1996.
The act says the word “marriage” means the union between a man and a woman in interpreting all federal laws. It also says that states do not have to recognize another state's same-sex marriage laws.
In the case of Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health,seven homosexual couples are suing the state for not giving them marriage licenses. The Massachusetts Supreme Court is expected to rule soon.
“Most people on both sides of the issue believe that the Supreme Court of Massachusetts is going to overthrow the Defense of Marriage Act,” Short said.
Matt Daniels,president of the Alliance for Marriage,the primary interest group supporting the amendment,said the amendment will strengthen marriage by sending a strong social message to children about how marriage is defined.
Daniels said gays and lesbians “have a right to live as they choose,but they do not have a right to redefine marriage in our country.”
Frank said he could not see a connection between strengthening marriage and prohibiting marriage for gays and lesbians.
“How does it strengthen marriage?” Frank asked. “It's like saying,‘I'm hungry,' and then chopping down a tree. It doesn't relate.”
President George W. Bush has not taken a position on the proposed amendment. However,Bush did not support a similar proposal by former Rep. Ronnie Shows,D-Miss.,in May 2002.
Bush believes that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits same-sex marriages,said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer at a press conference May 15,2002.
“All I know is,that’s already law of the land,signed by President Clinton. And the president supports the law of the land in this case,” Fleischer said last year.
However,Short said that Musgrave hopes Bush “would be very supportive.”
The original co-sponsors for this year’s proposal are three Republicans and three Democrats. As of Friday,the proposal had 10 House sponsors. The resolution has not been introduced in the Senate.
“It's an issue that crosses party lines and encompasses many religions and ethnicities,” Short said.
The primary interest group opposing the amendment is the Human Rights Campaign,a gay,lesbian and transgender rights organization. Winnie Stuchelberg,the group’s political director,said a social issue such as marriage is not something the constitutional amendment process was designed for.
“The Constitution is not meant to constrict rights,but expand them,” Stuchelberg said. “It flies in the face of public opinion and equal rights.”
A Gallup poll released May 15 said six in 10 Americans believe gay and lesbian sexual relations should be legal. However,the poll also found Americans evenly split on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to have civil unions that give them the rights of married couples.
Musgrave's proposed amendment has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution.