WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon plans on introducing an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment that will address concerns some senators have about the current version.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., said on the floor July 12 that Smith, a Republican, will offer a “one-sentence amendment” that presumably would strike the second sentence of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Frist did not give specifics.
In recent months some amendment opponents have claimed that the amendment’s second sentence would prevent states from legalizing Vermont-style civil unions and other types of domestic partnerships. Amendment supporters disagree, saying that the amendment would tie the hands of the courts but leave the civil unions issue up to state legislatures.
The sentence in dispute reads: “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.”
The first sentence, which presumably would remain in Smith’s version, reads: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.”
Frist said that there has been “great interest” among some Republicans over the Smith version.
Although Frist would like to see a vote on both versions Wednesday, Democrats may prevent that from happening.
Democratic leaders had promised not to filibuster the Federal Marriage Amendment as long as alternatives were not offered. Sen. Harry Reid, D.-Nev., even said Democrats would allow a vote “immediately.”
“We should have the opportunity to vote up or down on the resolution,” Reid said.
But the additional proposal may change the atmosphere.
“Under these circumstances we could be at this for weeks if not months,” Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., said, adding that Republicans “can’t agree on one version.”
Daschle criticized Republicans for pulling the amendment out of the committee before it received a vote there.
“There is no argument, in my view — among many of us, most us — about whether marriage ought to be between a man and a woman,” Daschle said. “It ought to. The real question is whether we ought to amend the United States Constitution.”
Reid said that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and running mate John Edwards “want to vote on the resolution itself” but may not be able to do so if the Senate schedule changes. Kerry and Edwards oppose the amendment.
Smith’s amendment would take one of the main arguments away from FMA opponents. But — assuming it involves striking the second sentence — it also would allow court-mandated civil unions. Vermont’s civil unions law was due solely to a court order.
Debate July 12 was dominated by Republicans. Only one Democrat — Dianne Feinstein of California — addressed the issue at length.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Penn., argued that leaving the issue up to the states would result in court-ordered same-sex “marriage” nationwide. He also answered charges that the Senate should be debating other issues — Feinstein called the debate a “waste of time.”
“I can’t think of [any] more important of an issue than to come here before the United States Senate to say, ‘What should the future of our culture look like?'” Santorum said.
The sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, Sen. Wayne Allard, R.-Colo., defended the amendment’s language.
“We recognize that there is a definite role for the states,” he said. “…We allow states to move ahead through the Democratic process and to deal with issues such as civil unions and domestic partnerships …”
Allard also encouraged Democrats to debate the issue on the merits.
“I hope that we can now settle down and get a good debate from the other side about why they don’t think that marriage ought to be defined as the union of a man and a woman, or why don’t think this is a good amendment,” he said. “… I urge my colleagues from the other side to step forward and let’s hear your views.”
Feinstein accused Republicans of trying to use a “wedge issue” during an election year. She also said the issue should be left to the states.
“Family law has always [been] relegated to the states,” she said. “This essentially would be the first departure from that.”
Answering Feinstein, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, said that in a perfect world he would like to see the issue left to the states. But Hatch said that courts — such as the one in Massachusetts’ — have prevented it from being a states rights issue.
Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, agreed with Hatch, saying that the “institution of marriage is just too important to leave to lawyers and lawsuits and to chance.”
Hatch again criticized the positions taken by Kerry and Edwards.
“They both believe that traditional marriage ought to be maintained, but they don’t believe we should do anything about it if it isn’t,” Hatch said. “Well, I hope we can change their minds.”
Constitutional amendment require the passage of two-thirds of both the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Allard’s amendment is SJR 40.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit