Cover Story

Prenuptial disagreement

A broad coalition in Washington is seeking to amend the Constitution before judges and activists force states to amend the meaning of marriage. Meanwhile, opponents of so-called gay marriage disagree over strategy

Issue: "The Marriage Amendment," June 8, 2002

If Matt Daniels believes one thing about marching into a political battle, it's that "rainbow coalitions" aren't just for liberal causes. Black and white, Asian and Latino, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew-every race and creed is represented when he calls the cameras and reporters to a Washington press conference.

Mr. Daniels is executive director of the Alliance for Marriage (AFM), and last month he arrived on Capitol Hill with a diverse assembly of 50 church officials who support his Federal Marriage Amendment, a simple addition of two sentences to the Constitution of the United States: "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."

He knows that to many Americans, it still sounds absurd and unnecessary to edit Jefferson and Madison with a paragraph that asserts something like the sky is blue or cows make milk. But in the second decade of the homosexual campaign to make the word marriage mean any arrangement of two people living together, it's not unnecessary. It's wildly controversial.

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Little else in media and political circles has the same sense of historical inevitability as the notion that homosexuality is the next frontier for a "civil rights" revolution. Anyone who stands in its way should be prepared to be hustled away by hyperbole. Standing outside the AFM press conference, two staffers from the American Civil Liberties Union pass out press releases likening the amendment to a "nuclear bomb" that would "wipe out every single law protecting gay and lesbian families and other unmarried couples."

Last July, when AFM first announced its proposed amendment, one of its supporters, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a Baptist minister and former D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives, received a flood of angry and threatening phone calls after local gay activists sent around his home phone number and asked people to call him ("Hanging up harassment," WORLD, Sept. 8, 2001).

AFM arranged to have its amendment introduced in the House of Representatives with a bipartisan flourish by Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Mississippi Democrat, one of three Democrats and three Republicans on board. (Since then, five more Republicans and GOP-leaning independent Virgil Goode have joined the co-sponsors' list.)

But even if the amendment appears simple and straightforward, its approval will not come easily. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate (but no action on the part of the president), and then ratification by at least 38 of the 50 states. This procedural high bar has prevented willy-nilly amending: Only 17 amendments have been added to the Constitution since the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights were adopted in 1791.

In the House, the amendment is still in its germinal stages. It has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Its prospects in a Democrat-controlled Senate are much bleaker, at least this year. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle doesn't bring anything to the floor without the assent of his liberal bloc. Rep. Shows acknowledges the difficulty, but suggests "you can't really tell what's going to happen six months from now. We just do the best we can."

The White House is typically quiet. Spokesman Ari Fleischer, rarely eager to answer hypothetical questions about measures that have yet to pass Congress, dismissed an amendment question by citing the Defense of Marriage Act, approved by Congress in 1996: "All I know is, that's already law of the land, signed by President Clinton, and the president supports the law of the land in this case." (The DOMA is merely a federal law, susceptible in the absence of a constitutional amendment to a challenge in the courts.)

Of White House indifference, Mr. Daniels says: "We have not asked for them to cheer for this. The president doesn't play a role in the constitutional amendment process."

The homosexual "marriage" campaign began on Dec. 17, 1990, when three couples in Hawaii attempted to secure marriage licenses. When they were refused, they filed suit in May 1991 against the state's department of health. A judge declared in favor of the three couples in 1993, suggesting they were denied equal protection under the state's constitution. As the Hawaii ruling approached finality in 1996, 16 state legislatures quickly passed laws that would prevent gay couples from using the full faith and credit clause of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution to argue that a marriage recognized in Hawaii should be recognized in other states. (More than a dozen other states have passed similar laws since then.)


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