News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: In the states, stay the course

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–On a procedural vote, the U.S. Senate on July 14 defeated the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Such an amendment was necessitated by the November 2003 decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which created ex nihlio a right for homosexual partners to “marry.” Since May of this year, homosexual “marriages” have been performed in Massachusetts.

Because the decision was based on the constitution of the state of Massachusetts, the federal courts cannot review the decision. By a vote of 4-3, a slim majority of unelected judges overturned 6,000 years of human history and 1,000 years of common law precedent. They also ignored and defeated the will of the citizens of Massachusetts who had limited marriage to the traditional definition in a state law passed by the elected legislature.

The best solution would be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution because that would be binding in all 50 states. However, it is very difficult process. More than 11,000 amendments have been proposed, with only 27 enacted. An amendment requires a two-thirds affirmative vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Shockingly, the proposed amendment received only 48 votes in the Senate, far short of the 67 votes required for passage. Realistically, approval of a Federal Marriage Amendment by Congress is years away.

It is vital for Christians to continue to work for a Federal Marriage Amendment. However, until such an amendment is passed, marriage amendments to the 50 state constitutions are the next best alternative.

Opponents of amendments often contend that an amendment is unnecessary because state law limits marriage to heterosexual couples. It is true that the statutes in all 50 states do limit marriage to the traditional one man and one woman. However, as seen in Massachusetts, agenda-driven judges have ignored the law and imposed their personal convictions. Massachusetts was not the first state in which this has happened. The Hawaii Supreme Court created a state constitutional right to same-sex “marriage,” a decision which was reversed by a state constitutional amendment. The Vermont Supreme Court also created a right to homosexual unions, which resulted in the Vermont Civil Union Statute.

There is no end in sight. State court challenges to the marriage laws are pending in six more states. It is likely that within the next year several other states will be ordered by their highest courts to institute same-sex unions. The only way to prevent this is a state constitutional amendment.

State constitutional amendments have another advantage over a federal amendment: They are much easier to enact. Eighteen states permit the voters to propose amendments directly through the initiative process. Petition drives to collect sufficient signatures to place state marriage amendments on the ballot this fall have been conducted in six states. Enough signatures to put a marriage amendment to a vote have been filed in Arkansas, Michigan, Montana and Oregon. Petition drives are ongoing in North Dakota and Ohio.

The other major advantage of state constitutional amendments is that they are approved or rejected by the voters. Polls show that 67 percent of Americans favor a marriage amendment. Proponents of same-sex “marriage” have questioned the accuracy of these polls. However, in the four states that have voted on marriage amendments, all have been passed with at least 68 percent of the vote. There is little doubt that if left to the will of the people, a marriage amendment would pass.

A marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution is desperately needed. Evangelical Christians and other supporters of traditional moral values should become involved in the political process and work toward that end. However, in the meantime, efforts also should be devoted to securing the passage of state constitutional marriage amendments. In those states which permit citizens to directly propose amendments, petition drives should be initiated. In the other states, citizens should contact legislators and urge them to support a state amendment.
Stephen R. Prescott teaches church history and constitutional law at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law.

For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

    About the Author

  • Stephen R. Prescott