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What now? Marriage amendment supporters plan next step

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Just two months ago, Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land says he was advised by some in the Senate that no more than 20 senators supported the Federal Marriage Amendment.

So, when the amendment got more than double that total July 14, Land was pleased.

“Guess what? We got 48, including three Democrats, which means that the Federal Marriage Amendment is alive and well — and not on life support,” Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.

The Senate blocked the marriage amendment from coming to a vote, falling 12 votes shy of the 60 needed to proceed to a vote on the amendment itself. Pro-family leaders, though, are far from discouraged — for several reasons.

First, they say, the debate put the issue in the public arena, educating both those both in and outside Washington as to how courts are threatening to legalize same-sex “marriage.” Second, the leaders say, the debate proved that Christians can mobilize and influence legislators in Washington. In the days leading up to the vote, senators were flooded with calls encouraging them to support the amendment. At one point, the Senate voicemail reportedly shut down.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said of the involvement by believers. “… I was extremely encouraged by the response of the church. Literally, the Senate was just swamped for two days. Senators were bringing in temporary staff to answer phones. The message clearly got through.”

Both Land and Perkins say the debate was only the beginning of the battle to protect marriage.

The next stop is the House, where representatives are expected to take up the marriage amendment before the November election, possibly in September. But a related bill may come up much sooner.

In the next week the House is expected to debate a bill sponsored by Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., that would prevent federal courts from forcing states to recognize another state’s same-sex “marriages.” The bill, HR 3313, would prevent courts from reviewing the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act — the law that protects states and one that leading liberal scholars say is unconstitutional. It was signed into law in 1996.

Pro-family groups endorse the Hostettler bill, but they see it as only a temporary fix. Unlike a constitutional amendment — which takes a Herculean effort to pass and get ratified — Hostettler’s bill could be reversed by a future Congress.

“We support any measure that will try to rein in the judiciary, but we support it, understanding that going after judicial tyranny with legislation is like hunting a hungry tiger with a BB gun,” Land said. “An amendment is going after the tiger of judicial tyranny with an elephant rifle.”

Perkins agrees.

“Ultimately, to wrestle it out of the hands of the courts, we’re going to have to have an amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he told BP. “Short-term, there may be some other measures we can take, and I think [the] Hostettler [bill] is one of those that addresses [the issue] and will further educate the public on how these black-robed tyrants are destroying our society as they chip away at our very foundation.”

Ironically, Land said, the Hostettler bill — which is intended to restrict courts — could be struck down by courts.

The House debate on the Hostettler bill — which has 49 sponsors — likely will parallel that of the Senate debate on the marriage amendment. Senators argued that an amendment is needed because the Defense of Marriage Act will be struck down in federal court, forcing every state to recognize Massachusetts’ same-sex “marriages.” The logic behind the Hostettler is nearly identical.

Land, for one, believes the Supreme Court eventually will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Although the major homosexual activist groups have yet to challenge it, at least one lawsuit has been filed against it in federal court.

At present, the legal battle is occurring mostly on the state level, where at least eight states are defending their laws against those trying to legalize same-sex “marriage.” And that doesn’t count states such as North Carolina and West Virginia, where lawsuits have been dismissed.

The high number of lawsuits has resulted in a sense of urgency on the part of pro-family groups — even though that urgency wasn’t shared by a majority of senators, who reportedly were divided over the language of the amendment. Sen. Gordon Smith, R.-Ore., supported striking the second sentence of the marriage amendment, resulting in one that would ban same-sex “marriage” but leave the issue of Vermont-style civil unions untouched. That, in essence, would also leave room for state courts to legalize civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Smith’s amendment would read simply, “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said on the floor that the Smith version could garner as many as 10 additional votes.

The second sentence, the one 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.”

Land said the amendment, without the second sentence, would be a “rhinestone” instead of a “diamond.”

“It’s absolutely critical that the second sentence remain,” he said. “Otherwise, the courts could give homosexuals everything that marriage has except the name and call it ‘barriage.'”

Perkins also supports the original version of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard, R.-Colo.

“The bottom line is we need an amendment to the United States Constitution that will protect the institution of marriage,” said Perkins, a former Louisiana state legislator. “I know — having served in the legislative branch — what goes in on the front side is not what always comes out on the back side. So this is a very fluid process, which is the reason we’re involved, from start to finish.

“I don’t know what the ultimate language will be. I doubt seriously it will be the same language that we introduced.”

Senators who opposed the amendment claimed that the Allard version would prohibit state legislatures from legalizing civil unions and domestic partnerships. But amendment supporters say that the amendment only ties the hands of courts while leaving room for state legislatures to handle the issue of civil unions.

“We’re talking about constitutional language, but I’m of the opinion that it’s very clear,” Perkins said. “It says that marriage in the United States shall consist of the union of one man and woman, and that no judge can create another type of something that we would call marriage-light.”

The House version of the amendment is nearly identical to the Allard version in the Senate. Perkins said the amendment does not have the required two-thirds support in the House. Supporters, he said, “are going to have to really speak loudly” by contacting their representative.

But Perkins said the debate on the amendment is off to a good start.

“This was an important step,” he said of the Senate debate. “This was really the first step in wrestling this issue of marriage out of the hands of unelected judges and putting it in the hands of elected representatives and people, where it belongs.”

Land called the Senate debate “a tremendous first step on the road to victory.”

“We should all be encouraged, because we have more than doubled the votes in the Senate [thanks to] two months of people letting their senators know how they really feel on this issue,” he said. “Participatory democracy really works when the people participate.”
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

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  • Michael Foust