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Marriage protection amendment gets push after court ruling

WASHINGTON (BP)–The campaign to protect marriage in the United States Constitution has gained momentum in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling that some observers say could pave the way for homosexual unions.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and others have endorsed, or reiterated their endorsement of, the Federal Marriage Amendment. The measure, reintroduced in May by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R.-Colo., would limit marriage to “the union of a man and a woman.” It also would prevent federal and state constitutions and laws from being interpreted to mandate marriage or its benefits for homosexuals and other unmarried people.

“I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between what [has] traditionally in our Western values been defined as between a man and a woman,” said Frist, a Tennessee Republican, on ABC’s “This Week” program June 29, according to The Washington Times. “So I would support the amendment.”

Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land and others restated their support for the FMA after the high court struck down a Texas law against same-sex sexual relations.

“This decision once again focuses attention on the desperate and immediate need for the Federal Marriage Amendment in order to keep the courts from forcing gay ‘marriage’ on the public the same way it is forcing the legalization of homosexual behavior on an unwilling public,” Land said June 30. Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“I am delighted but not surprised that Majority Leader Frist has been so outspoken in his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Land said. “Anyone who knows Sen. Frist and his devotion to marriage and the family would not be in the least surprised at his strong affirmation for the amendment and its attempt to place the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman beyond the cold, clammy touches of judicial activism.”

In a 6-3 ruling June 26, the Supreme Court not only struck down laws against sodomy in Texas and 12 other states, but its decision “effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation,” the dissenting justices wrote.

Laws against “fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality and obscenity” cannot survive the justices’ reasoning in the decision, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. “Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ for purposes of proscribing that conduct … what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution.'”

Land called the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas “wrong in result and in argumentation. Perhaps the argumentation will be even more dangerous than the result in this case.”

In the court’s opinion, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy said “people ‘are entitled to respect for their private lives’ and the state ‘cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.’ What’s going to happen when an adult male brings a case saying that he is practicing a consensual sexual relationship with his biological adult sister, i.e. incest? On what grounds, given this opinion by Justice Kennedy, will the Supreme Court uphold laws against adult biological incest? The court has opened a Pandora’s box that is going to be very difficult to contain,” Land said.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, told The New York Times, “[W]e all were especially surprised by the scope and breadth of [the] opinion. It was a grand-slam homer for the other side.”

The homosexual-rights organization that argued on behalf of the men who brought the suit also commented on the ruling’s expansiveness. “In addition to its great significance today, this ruling will be an important precedent for future cases as we push for full liberty and full equality in every aspect of gay people’s lives,” said Ruth Harlow, legal director at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and lead counsel on the case. “This ruling starts an entirely new chapter in our fight for equality for lesbians and gay men.”

Some evangelical legal scholars encouraged pro-family advocates not to panic.

Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Legal Institute told Focus on the Family, according to a Christianity Today report, the court did not say “homosexuality was somehow a fundamental right, or that discrimination against homosexuals was legally forbidden.” The “‘atomic bomb’ would have been to create a fundamental right for homosexuality, similar to the so-called right to abortion, or even to the right of free speech,” he said. “That the court did not do.”

Some pro-life, pro-family leaders managed to find a hopeful sign in the decision, which reversed a 1986 opinion that upheld a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy.

“The only bright spot that I can find in this ruling is that if the justices can overturn a case they decided a mere 17 years ago and completely reverse themselves, then it is obvious that there is also no ‘settled law’ argument to keep them from overturning Roe v. Wade and completely reversing themselves on that ruling as well,” Land said.

In his dissent, Scalia cited the inconsistency of some of the justices in overturning a 17-year-old decision despite their unwillingness to do so in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion. In that ruling, Associate Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter and Kennedy decided the precedent of the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion must stand, citing the way abortion had become a part of American society in 19 years.

Land said a reporter for a national publication asked him if the Lawrence v. Texas decision would alter the attitudes and behavior of Southern Baptists.

“My answer was, ‘Yes it will. It will make us even more determined to make sure we are all registered to vote and that we vote for presidents who will only nominate and senators who will only confirm justices to the Supreme Court who will not take the wrong side in the culture war,'” Land said.

The Federal Marriage Amendment, H.R.Res. 56, says: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

Proponents of the FMA say the Lawrence decision is only one of several reasons such a constitutional amendment is needed.

Many legal observers expect the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to rule soon there is a right in the state constitution for homosexuals to marry. If so, under the federal constitution, other states may have to recognize such “marriages” performed in Massachusetts.

Vermont already has legalized same-sex unions that include nearly all the benefits of marriage.

Recently, an appeals court in the Canadian province of Ontario legalized civil marriage for homosexuals. The Canadian government announced it would not appeal the decision.

Congress adopted the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to protect states from being forced to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state. Supporters of the FMA, however, fear a court may strike down at least some applications of the DOMA, as well as state laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman. They also say the amendment is needed because the DOMA does not bar courts from recognizing same-sex unions entered into overseas by American citizens.

While the amendment would preclude judges from forcing “civil unions” and same-sex, marriage-like benefits upon states, it would not prevent state legislatures from continuing to make such decisions. It also would not affect employee benefits provided by private businesses.

The amendment’s supporters face a daunting task in order for it to become part of the Constitution. An amendment requires approval by two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.

The Alliance for Marriage, a broad coalition including Christians, Jews and Muslims, has been the primary force behind the FMA. Information on the amendment may be accessed on the Internet at www.allianceformarriage.org.