WASHINGTON (BP)–When a federal marriage amendment failed in Congress last year, a number of senators — including Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Republican John McCain — opposed it on the grounds that states should be able to decide the issue on their own.
Now that a federal judge has struck down Nebraska’s marriage amendment -– despite voter approval by a 70-30-percent margin in 2000 — conservatives are hoping those same senators will give a federal marriage amendment another look.
The judge, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon, said the Nebraska amendment violates the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution because it denies homosexuals the ability to lobby their state legislature for the benefits of marriage. Bataillon, in his 43-page ruling, also said the amendment makes same-sex couples an “unequal” class.
The Nebraska amendment protects the traditional definition of marriage by banning “gay marriage,” Vermont-style civil unions and other types of marriage-like relationships.
The ruling does not legalize “gay marriage” but does make Nebraska more vulnerable to a “gay marriage” lawsuit. Another 17 states have marriage amendments, and 10 of those have language similar to Nebraska’s — banning not only “gay marriage” but also civil unions.
Conservatives say the only solution is a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Unlike state amendments, judges cannot overturn federal amendments.
“[T]he traditional institution of marriage now is clearly in need of federal protection, now more than ever,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and a federal marriage amendment supporter, said in a statement. “… This ruling is a vivid reminder that opponents of traditional marriage have not given up their effort to overturn the will of the people.”
Nebraska is not the only state involved in a lawsuit. Eight states are in court defending their laws against “gay marriage” supporters. In addition, lawsuits in the U.S. Ninth and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals seek to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act — which, if the suits are successful, could result in all 50 states being forced to recognize “gay marriage.”
The Nebraska lawsuit was brought by liberal and homosexual activist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and Lambda Legal. Even though homosexual activists have failed to defeat a single marriage amendment at the ballot, they have believed all along they could win in the courts. Last fall, after seeing 11 states pass marriage amendments on Election Day, Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told the Associated Press: “This issue is going to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s not going to give a [expletive] what these state constitutions say.”
Last year a federal marriage amendment was blocked from receiving a vote in the Senate, receiving only 48 votes. It needed 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. During debate Lieberman said that marriage “is an issue best left to the states in our constitutional and legal framework.” McCain also invoked the states rights argument, saying the amendment “strike[s] me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said states rights arguments are now obsolete.
“This ruling strips away the camouflage covering for those who did not want to vote on a federal marriage amendment because of so-called states rights and were arguing that each state could determine this issue for itself,” Land told Baptist Press. “That myth has now been exploded by this federal judge, who struck down an amendment passed by seven out of 10 Nebraskans.”
Said Cornyn: “When we debated the merits of a federal marriage amendment on the Senate floor, opponents claimed that no state laws were threatened, that no judge had ever ruled against state marriage laws. They claimed that the states and their voter-approved laws defending marriage were under no threat…. [T]hey can no longer make that claim.”
After the ruling was handed down a host of pro-family leaders issued statements calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment.
“This decision is the catalyst the United States Congress was looking for as an example of why this country needs a federal marriage amendment,” Mat Staver of the pro-family legal group Liberty Counsel said in a statement. “A single judge has overturned the vote of the people in Nebraska, essentially holding that any amendment that seeks to do anything more than define marriage as the union of a man and a woman is unconstitutional.”
Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage — which drafted the amendment currently before the Senate — said activist groups are trying to use the courts to force “gay marriage” on all 50 states.
“This historic national debate will come down to a race between AFM’s Marriage Protection Amendment and the American courts,” Daniels said in a statement. “[The] federal ruling makes it all the more clear that AFM’s marriage amendment is the only hope for the deeply-held values of the vast majority of Americans — of every race, color and creed — to be protected under our laws.”
Byron Babione of the pro-family legal group Alliance Defense Fund told Baptist Press: “[Courts] are saying, ‘We are not going to respect or recognize the will of the vast majority of Americans.’ … In order to have the will of Americans recognized, it’s going to take a federal constitutional amendment. It’s important to have a uniform policy on marriage in the United States. These judges, by disrespecting the will of the people, are necessitating a federal marriage amendment.”
Land said it was arrogant for the judge to tell Nebraskans “their only motivation” for passing the amendment “was hate.”
“The only remedy for this kind of imperial judiciary is a federal Marriage Protection Amendment,” Land said. “Our forefathers, in their wisdom, gave us the means to further instruct the judges when they refuse to abide by the will of the people. It’s called an amendment process, and we must have a federal constitutional amendment that says that marriage in the United States shall only be between a man and a woman. It is time for every Southern Baptist and other persons of faith who agree to contact their senators and tell them they want them to vote for the Marriage Protection Amendment.”
U.S. constitutional amendments require the approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states. The marriage amendment in the U.S. Senate is Senate Joint Resolution 1 and in the House is House Joint Resolution 39.
Nebraska’s marriage amendment states: “Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska. The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.”
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage