WASHINGTON (ABP) — The United States Senate has become the latest battlefield in the ongoing culture war over gay marriage. A quintet of conservative Republican senators introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment Nov. 25, shortly before senators adjourned for their holiday break.
The measure would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban marriage and “the legal incidents thereof” to same-sex couples. The move came only one week after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the state's legislature to legalize gay marriage.
The proposal's initial co-sponsors are Sens. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
The proposal's text reads: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor 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.”
Supporters argue that the amendment's language is tailored narrowly enough simply to protect state laws that define marriage as solely a heterosexual institution. But some opponents warn its language is broad enough to deny marriage-like rights — such as hospital visitation, inheritance and child custody — to gay and lesbian couples that have long enjoyed them in certain states.
The Alliance for Marriage, an organization advocating the Federal Marriage Amendment, said in a Nov. 25 press release that the proposal's language simply “ensures that state legislatures — not the courts — will continue to decide all issues related to the allocation of marital benefits. AFM's Federal Marriage Amendment has no impact at all on the benefits offered by private businesses and corporations to their employees.”
But Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has said he will oppose such an amendment.
President Bush and his spokespeople have so far declined to state publicly if the White House will support the constitutional amendment.
The bill, S.J. Res. 26, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. An identical proposal in the House, introduced by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) had gained 107 co-sponsors as of Dec. 1.
Congress has not successfully amended the Constitution since 1971, when 18-year-olds got the right to vote. Constitutional amendments must be ratified by three fourths of the states to be enacted. The Equal Rights Amendment, introduced in 1923 and passed by Congress in 1972, was defeated in 1982 after failing to win ratification.