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Senators hear leaders debate homosexual rights, civil rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 23, two prominent black leaders disagreed as to whether there are parallels between the homosexual rights movement and the civil rights movement.

The hearing focused on arguments for and against a constitutional marriage amendment and featured testimony from political and legal experts from both sides of the issue.

Rep. John Lewis, D.-Ga., who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, said he supports the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Lewis is black.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” he said.

But Richard Richardson, a pastor of an African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Boston area, disagreed. He serves as the director of political affairs for The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston.

“You can’t compare what the gay and lesbian community [is] going through today to what the African-American people went through [with] their struggle to gain their rights,” Richardson said.

Including Lewis, three legislators spoke to the panel, as well as four law experts.

While Lewis and Richardson did not testify at the same time, they touched on many of the same points.

The two men have been on opposite sides of the political battle in recent months. Lewis has endorsed a resolution by the homosexual activist group Lambda Legal supporting the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Richardson, meanwhile, has been fighting in his state (Massachusetts) for a state constitutional amendment that would protect the traditional definition of marriage.

Lewis said he opposes a federal marriage amendment because it would “write discrimination into the Constitution” and would “undermine” the “civil rights” of many citizens. He added that civil unions should not be an option to same-sex “marriage.”

“We have been down that road before in this country,” he said. “Separate is not equal.”

Richardson asserted that marriage is “about children” and not “jut about adult love.” He said he doesn’t “disparage” other family arrangements but stressed that traditional marriage is “the ideal.”

“Any time they say that the federal marriage amendment writes discrimination into the Constitution, they’re also saying that traditional marriage must be abolished by courts,” Richardson said, referring to lawyers who argue for same-sex “marriage.”

“So it’s not just that they want to silence us, they also want to write our values out of the Constitution, as well.”

Lewis predicted that Americans one day will view same-sex “marriage” the same way they now view the issue of slavery and segregation.

“We will look back over this debate and say, ‘What was this all about?’” he said.

Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and an open homosexual, said same-sex “marriage” would not hinder heterosexuals.

“It doesn’t detract from anyone else,” he said. “I have to ask, Senators, others, who are we hurting?”

Richardson, who calls himself a proud Democrat and says that an amendment should be a bi-partisan issue, said that same-sex “marriage” legalization would impact society negatively. He said he no longer takes his family to the historical town of Provincetown, Mass., which is a popular meeting place for homosexuals.

“It does affect families in general when you see these other things,” he said. “As much as I enjoy going to Provincetown, I had to stop going there and taking my kids [there] as a nice summer resort because of some of the things that they would see and then bring back home.”

He said they would start asking question about what they saw.

“It does affect families, so you can’t isolate and [then] say that it doesn’t spill over into the general population,” Richardson said.

John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said “activist” courts have left the public “no middle ground.” Responding to those who say an amendment wound write discrimination into the Constitution, Cornyn said, “[T]hey’re the ones writing the American people out of constitutional democracy.”

Sen. Diannne Feinstein, D.-Calif., said the issue should be left to the states. She opposes a marriage amendment and says the Defense of Marriage Act is sufficient. She noted that DOMA has not been successfully challenged in federal court. Conservatives fear that it will be struck down, leading to nationalized same-sex “marriage.”

“We need not readdress this issue with a constitutional amendment,” she said.

Phyllis Bossin of the American Bar Association said her organization opposes a marriage amendment. It is premature to speculate that DOMA will be struck down, she said.

“One does not amend the Constitution on a hunch,” she said.

But Teresa Stanton Collett, professor at the St. Thomas University School of Law in Minnesota, argued that it is a national issue, and not a states’ rights issue.

There is legal precedent for making it a federal issue, she added, pointing to a Supreme Court ruling upholding a federal ban on polygamy. She noted that today some 20 states are being forced to defend their marriage laws in court. In addition, the Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down anti-sodomy laws could impact the same-sex “marriage” issue, she said.

“It is, in fact, only a matter of time before we see a federal constitutional opinion that forces same-sex marriage upon the people of the United States,” said Collett, who supports a marriage amendment.

Amendment supporters pointed to court decisions in Massachusetts, Vermont and other states and asserted that a federal court eventually would rule for same-sex “marriage.”

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R.-Colo., said there is no “national outcry” to redefine marriage.

“State and federal activist judges will not stop until a national marriage definition is legislated from the bench,” she said. “In our country this is unacceptable. The American people deserve to have a say in this important issue.”
For more information about the debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

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  • Michael Foust