WASHINGTON (ABP) — Just hours after a Senate hearing on an amendment to outlaw gay marriage nationwide, thousands of same-sex couples and other gay-rights supporters rallied in downtown Washington in response.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution held a morning hearing March 3 to discuss the advisability of amending the Constitution to ban gay marriages.
This was the second such discussion convened by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the subcommittee's chairman. The subcommittee hosted a similar hearing Sept. 4. Since then, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has twice affirmed that that state's Constitution requires equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
The Federal Marriage Amendment, currently making its way through both houses of Congress, would ban marriage and “the legal incidents thereof” for same-sex couples nationwide. Although polls show the amendment has some support from the general public, most political observers say it has little chance of passing.
At the latest hearing, Cornyn said banning gay marriage should be “a bipartisan issue.” But Democrats on the panel balked at that suggestion.
In his opening statement, Cornyn said the amendment was necessary because “activist judges like those in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere” are presenting “a clear and present danger to traditional marriage laws across the nation.”
But Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, said an amendment wasn't necessary and called Bush's support for one “an attempt to salvage his faltering re-election campaign.”
Kennedy added: “President Bush will go down in history as the first president to try to write bias back into the Constitution.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) also announced March 3 that the Senate will vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment before the year is over. “If we allow activist judges to redefine marriage, we are gambling with our future,” he said at a pre-hearing press conference with FMA supporters. The Senate, he added, “can't let that happen.”
Some conservatives have pushed for the amendment out of fear that, once gay marriages are legally recognized in one state, the courts will force other states to recognize them.
But an expert in the portion of the U.S. Constitution that requires states to recognize legal acts of other states said there is no legal precedent for states being forced to recognize marriages performed in other states when such marriages violate the second state's public policy. “The 'full faith and credit clause' [of the Constitution] has never been read to reach that result,” said Lea Brilmayer, a professor at Yale Law School.
She said states that ban marriages between first cousins, for instance, have not been required to recognize first-cousin marriages from other states. “There's always been vast differences in marriage laws between one state and another,” she said.
Under questioning by senators, Brilmayer did concede that federal courts may eventually overturn all state bans on same-sex marriage under a challenge based on a different part of the Constitution — its equal-protection provisions.
Dick Richardson, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and head of an inner-city children's social-service agency in Boston, testified in favor of a gay-marriage ban. “The dilution of the ideal — of procreation and child-rearing within the marriage of one man and one woman — has already had a devastating effect on our community,” he said. “We need to be strengthening the institution of marriage, not diluting it.
“This discussion about marriage is not about adult love,” he added. “It is about finding the best arrangement for raising children, and as history, tradition, biology, sociology and just plain common sense tell us, children are raised best by their biological father and mother.”
The hearing room was packed with gay couples — many of them accompanied by their young children — who had been encouraged to attend by gay-rights groups.
The proposed amendment would be the first since Prohibition designed to curtail rights rather than expand them. Richardson, an African-American, was asked by a reporter if that fact gave him pause in casting his support behind the FMA. He said: “This is about children. If you want to talk about discrimination, maybe children are being discriminated against.”
Later that evening, at the rally in opposition to the FMA, several gay parents and their children said they are being discriminated against — by people like Richardson. Thousands of people crowded the streets around the downtown Washington headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay-rights group.
Addressing the crowd, 13-year-old Delaware resident Jake Williams noted that his mothers are a lesbian couple. Like other speakers, he cited the hundreds of federal and state rights and responsibilities granted to married couples but not to gay couples. Speaking of his mothers and his two younger siblings, Williams said, “They need these protections to help take care of us — especially if something should happen to one of them.”
Two same-sex couples attending the rally told an Associated Baptist Press reporter that having the right to marry is about much more than status. “I want the same rights and the same benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy,” said Marc Groman, a 33-year-old Washington attorney. He and his partner, David Reitman, who is also 33, have been together for 12 years. Two years ago, they celebrated a Jewish holy union ceremony.
“I want the right to make health decisions for my partner,” Groman said. “I want the same rights as everybody else — no more, no less.” The couple is in the process of having a child through a surrogate mother.
Reitman, a pediatrician, said that he did not like being “used as a political ploy” by the Bush administration. Describing the amendment as “targeting people like me” and designed to curtail his rights, he said, “This is something that I never thought I would see in my life.”
Cindy Grim and Barbara Stratton, from Baltimore, brought their four-year-old son, Charlie, to the event. “I am primarily a stay-at-home mother to Charlie, and I get the full effects of not having a marriage license for my family,” Stratton said. Noting she has not worked full-time outside the home for much of her and Grim's seven-year relationship, Stratton said, “All that time I could have been getting vested in her Social Security. I'm not getting vested in anyone's Social Security.”
She also added that Grim's employer did not offer health insurance benefits to same-sex partners until last summer. Stratton said that, at one point prior to that, her family had a total income of $35,000 annually and was paying approximately $500 per month in health insurance premiums. “In tangible ways,” she said, “we are really getting hit hard by the lack of a marriage license.”