No Vote Soon on Marriage Amendment

Thanks to a November edict by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, homosexual “marriages” began taking place in that state May 17. But the U.S. Congress is still a long way from passing a constitutional amendment to ban such unions.

Although he would not rule out a vote this year, a House leadership source conceded to HUMAN EVENTS that Republicans have no concrete plans to push the Federal Marriage Amendment through Congress before the elections.

The amendment, which is endorsed by President Bush, would prevent federal and state judges from creating homosexual unions by edict–as they have in Massachusetts and Vermont–or from making states recognize gay nuptials contracted in other states.

The proposed amendment would not prevent state legislatures from creating the legal equivalent of homosexual marriages (“civil unions” or “domestic partnerships”), as long as they did not actually call them “marriages.”

Congressional sources agree that as of now the amendment would fall short of the two-thirds vote (67) needed in the Senate, even if it garnered the two-thirds (290) needed in the House. A survey of senators by HUMAN EVENTS last July found surprisingly little support for the amendment, although that could change now that same-sex “marriages” are actually taking place.

If passed by Congress, the amendment would need to be approved by 38 state legislatures to be ratified. As it happens, that is the exact number of states that have already passed laws or constitutional amendments banning homosexual marriage.

Some supporters of the amendment fear that a quick vote would not only fail, but also put several persuadable congressmen on the wrong side of the issue immediately. “It depends on when we’ve built a consensus,” the House leadership source said. “At this point there doesn’t appear to be a consensus.”

A senior Senate aide noted that the staff of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has been changing its tune about the timing of a possible vote, moving back consideration from May to June, to July. Frist’s office did not respond to inquiries.

Some conservatives complain the amendment has been preemptively weakened. As originally proposed by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R.-Colo.) the measure (H.J. Res. 56) read: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or 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.” This appeared to prohibit “civil unions” as well as homosexual “marriages.”

The new version, proposed in March by Sen. Wayne Allard (R.-Colo.), would not prevent such unions. Its first sentence is identical, but its second sentence reads simply: “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.” Allard had earlier proposed the Musgrave language.

Bob Knight of Concerned Women for America said he believed the amendment’s backers should attempt to return to the original Musgrave language. “The House could still strengthen the language,” he said. “The leaders should make it an amendment worth fighting for.” He also suggested that, with a simple majority, Congress could enact a bill by Rep. John Hostettler (R.-Ind.) to remove any challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) from federal court jurisdiction. DOMA allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages in other states, but there is fear that the courts may overturn it. Asked whether he felt the newer version of the amendment would at least do some good, Knight said, “I suppose putting on a helmet while jumping out of an airplane may help somewhat.”

Knight also called on Congress to pass a Defense of Marriage Act for the District of Columbia, which would prevent “Massachusetts marriages” from being recognized in the Nation’s Capital.