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Senators begin debate on Federal Marriage Amendment

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate began debating the Federal Marriage Amendment July 9, with Republicans saying it was necessary to preserve the traditional definition of marriage and Democrats for the most part ignoring the issue.

“The question before us is fundamental: Should marriage remain the union between a husband and a wife?” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., said.

Senators were scheduled to begin debate July 12, but GOP leaders instead moved the debate up three days. The amendment likely does not have the 67 votes it needs to pass and may not have the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Nevertheless, amendment supporters and pro-family groups want a debate to take place so that senators will be forced to take a position. No vote took place July 9.

Ten senators spoke during debate on the amendment, with six supporting it, one opposing it and three not addressing it. The split mostly was along party lines. Only three Democrats spoke, and only one — Patrick Leahy of Vermont — criticized the amendment. The other two Democrats spoke about other issues.

“For 225 years we’ve left it up to the states to define marriage,” Leahy said. “All of the sudden we’re going to tell them they don’t know what they’re doing?”

But other senators said a nationwide definition of marriage was inevitable and that it would come either through a marriage amendment or by a court ruling.

“[T]he Constitution of the United States is about to be amended. The question is by whom?” Sen. Gordon Smith, R.-Ore., said. “Will it be done by a few liberal judges in Massachusetts, a lawless mayor in San Francisco or clandestine county commissioners? Or [will it be done] by the American people in a lawful, constitutional process as laid out in our founding document?”

Smith and other Republican senators said the amendment is the only way to prevent federal courts from legalizing same-sex “marriage.” In May, Massachusetts became the only state in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Out-of-state couples who acquired the licenses have said they will sue in their home state to have the licenses recognized there.

In addition, at least seven states are defending their marriage laws in court against those trying to legalize same-sex “marriage” — much as happened in Massachusetts.

“It has become clear that the issue is a national issue and it requires a national solution,” Frist said.

Opponents say the amendment is unnecessary because a law banning federal recognition of same-sex “marriage,” the Defense of Marriage Acts, exists. DOMA, which became law in 1996, also allows states to ban same-sex “marriage.” But the law is being challenged in federal court, and if overturned, all 50 states — and the federal government — presumably would be forced to recognize Massachusetts’ “marriages.”

DOMA has been an issue in the presidential campaign, because Democratic candidate John Kerry was one of only 15 senators to vote against it. While he argued then that DOMA was unconstitutional, he now says he believes it is constitutional. Kerry opposes the marriage amendment.

“[Kerry’s position] is the grand flip-flop — one of the grandest of all time,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, said.

Leahy, who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, called the marriage debate “fruitless” and said the Senate should be debating other matters, such as homeland security. He also accused Republicans of using the amendment as a “wedge issue” during an election year.

Hatch, though, said marriage was worthy of debate.

“I don’t know of anything — anything — in our society, or in our lives, or in our country, or in the world that is more important than preserving our traditional family definition,” Hatch said. “I don’t know of anything that is more important to children. I don’t know of anything that is more important to morality. I don’t know of anything that is more important to education. I don’t know of anything that’s more important to strengthening our country.”

Denying that the issue was election-driven, Hatch said the ruling in Massachusetts forced the issue.

“We did not choose this schedule,” Hatch said. “The courts did. But as public representatives bound by the oath to defend the Constitution, we will not hide from our obligations.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said he was disappointed by the lack of participation in the amendment debate by Democrats.

“I, for one, am just shocked and amazed at the attitude,” he said.

Noting that 85 senators voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, Cornyn said the debate over marriage “is not a partisan issue.”

“I just fail to see how any one of us can remain neutral or on the sidelines when this debate is going forward,” he said. “… There’s a difference between launching an attack and acting in self-defense, and the American people know the difference.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala., said studies show that children do better in a traditional, two-parent household. Frist noted that traditional marriage has always been tied to procreation and childrearing.

The impact of same-sex “marriage” is significant, Frist said. He said that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is pushing to change birth certificates so that they read “Parent A” and “Parent B” instead of referencing the mother and father.

“We can see that the implications of radically redefining marriage are far-reaching,” Frist said. “They’re dramatic.”

The issue, Sen. Wayne Allard said, would have been a no-brainer for the nation’s founders.

“Gays and lesbians have the right to live the way they want to, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage,” Allard said. “… The framers of the Constitution felt that this would never be an issue. And if they had, it would have been included in the U.S. Constitution.”

A recent CBS News poll showed that 60 percent of Americans support a marriage amendment, while a Wirthlin Worldwide poll had support at 67 percent.

In February, President Bush called for passage of a marriage amendment.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

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  • Michael Foust