WASHINGTON – As Senators prepare to debate a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage,national organizations on both sides of the issue are stepping up their lobbying efforts.
Last week,an anti-gay marriage group credited with penning the legislation met with senators on Capitol Hill to urge passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment.
The amendment reads: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution,nor the constitution of any State,shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”
Matt Daniels,founder of the Alliance for Marriage,a group that promotes families raised by both a mother and a father,said support for the amendment is growing in the Senate.
“We know we have a majority in the Senate,” Daniels said,adding that the group has been lobbying senators for support. “We're taking our message to whoever will listen.”
Three senators were present at the group's May 25 news conference. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist,R-Tenn.; and Sens. George Allen,R-Va.; and Wayne Allard,R-Colo.,are three of 29 co-sponsors of the amendment,which was known as the Federal Marriage Amendment when it was defeated in the Senate two years ago.
The senators said that the constitutional amendment is needed so courts could no longer bypass the votes of the people.
“We see unelected judges usurping the right of the people to express their views and their values,” Allen said. “We need a constitutional amendment – a federal marriage amendment – to protect the will and the views and the values of the people in the states.”
Frist added that most people support a federal amendment. Nineteen states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.
“The vast majority of Americans understand that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” Frist said.
The American Family Association,based in Tupelo,Miss.,started an e-mail drive to encourage its member to contact their senators and urge them to vote for the amendment.
On its Web site,the AFA said a senator who votes against the amendment “is in reality voting for homosexual marriage.”
Another group converged on Capitol Hill recently to offer differing views.
More than 30 religious leaders from the Clergy for Fairness spoke out against the amendment,which they called discriminatory and bigoted.
Joe Doss,a retired Episcopal Bishop from New Jersey,now of Mandeville,La.,said the same-sex marriage debate is not a political issue and should remain a religious subject.
“Marriage is a theological matter of the first import,” Doss said. “I have to question whether the Senate is the place to debate this.”
The Rev. Melvin Hoover of Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston,W.V.,said slavery would still prevail if civil rights leaders hadn't fought for justice years ago,and justice is now needed for the thousands who would be affected by the amendment.
“Human rights are human rights,and human beings need human rights,” Hoover said.
A national gay rights group,the Human Rights Campaign,recently started a national petition drive against the amendment. The group sent letters to each of the more than 650,000 members on its e-mail list,urging them to contact their senators to oppose the amendment.
HRC started a newspaper and magazine ad campaign and set up a Web site,http://www.hrc.org/voteno/voteno.htm – which provides customized postcards for members to send to their legislators. It is urging members to telephone their senators Monday,dubbing it “National Call-in Day.”
Joe Solmonese,president of the Human Rights Campaign,said the amendment is a political ploy by Republican members of Congress aiming to take the country's eyes off more important issues,such as the war in Iraq,rising gas prices and the economy.
“Since they can't change the country,they're trying to change the subject,” Solmonese said.
Solmonese said he was optimistic that the amendment would be defeated.
A panel met in Washington Thursday to discuss the effects of same-sex marriage in other countries where it is legal. The issue for them was not religious,but social.
William N. Eskridge Jr.,a professor of law at Yale University,is co-author of “Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse; What We've Learned from the Evidence.”
“The bottom line would be Denmark and other Scandinavian countries recognized same sex marriage partnership and the sky didn't fall,” Eskridge said,“and thousands of couples in each of these counties except Iceland found their lives enriched and the lives of their families enriched as well.”
Maggie Gallagher,president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and co-author of “The Case for Marriage,” disagreed. She said that,while she is opposed to redefining marriage,statistics show European same-sex couples lack interest in civil unions.
“Not many gay people are getting married,” Gallagher said. She said gay male unions are about 1.5 times more likely to dissolve than heterosexual marriages,and lesbian unions are 2.7 times more likely to dissolve than heterosexual couples.
To become a part of the Constitution,the proposed amendment must pass both the Senate and the House by a two-thirds majority and be ratified by at least 38 states. A House version of the amendment has been referred to a committee. The Senate starts debate next week,with a vote possible by Tuesday.
Web sites of the other groups lobbying on the amendment include:
The Alliance for Marriage http://www.allianceformarriage.org
Clergy for Fairness http://www.clergyforfairness.org/
The American Family Association http://www.afa.net/
Note: Shenequa A. Golding also contributed to this report.