Senate opens debate on Marriage Protection Amendment
Updated June 5, 6:40 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Senate began debate on a constitutional marriage amendment June 5, with supporters saying it is necessary to prevent "activist courts" from forcing the legalization of "gay marriage" on the nation.
Within the past three years judges in five states -- California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Washington -- have sided with homosexual activists and ruled that "gay marriage" should be legalized. Massachusetts' highest court issued its decision in 2003 legalizing "gay marriage," and decisions in the other four states have been appealed.
In addition, a Georgia state judge struck down that state's constitutional marriage amendment, and a federal judge overturned Nebraska's amendment. Also, lawsuits have been filed against the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- the 1996 law that gives states the option of not recognizing another state's "gay marriages."
The amendment before the Senate, S.J. Res. 1 -- the Marriage Protection Amendment -- would prevent courts from redefining marriage. Federal constitutional amendments cannot be overturned in court.
"Some of my colleagues feel we shouldn't be talking about marriage in the Senate," Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado and the amendment sponsor, said during debate. "I say we must. Our government is a three branch government. The Congress is the branch that represents the people most directly.
"We have a duty ... to discuss the state of marriage in America. If we do not take this up, we abdicate our responsibilities. We will allow the courts sole dominion on the state and future of marriage."
Senators are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a "cloture motion" -- that is, a motion to limit debate and allow an up-or-down vote on the amendment itself. Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture, and it is expected to fall several votes short. When the amendment was debated in 2004, a cloture motion received 48 votes. It likely will get more than 50 this year.
Although Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize "gay marriage," that could change significantly by year's end. Supreme courts in three states -- New Jersey, New York and Washington -- are considering cases that could redefine marriage to include homosexual couples.
Senators who oppose the amendment said the matter should be left to the states.
"I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman," Minority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., said. "But I also believe in our federal system of government, described to me in college as a central whole divided among self-governing parts. Those self-governing parts -- the 50 states -- have already in state after state after state decided this on their own, and others are deciding it as we speak."
But amendment supporters said courts are preventing "gay marriage" from being a states rights issue.
"[This debate is] about who is going to define marriage in America," said Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., an amendment supporter. "Is it going to be defined by the courts that have started this debate, or is it going to be defined by legislatures and legislative bodies across the country?"The amendment must be passed by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and be ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the states. Brownback argued that the support on the state level already exists: Forty-five states have adopted either constitutional amendments or state statutes protecting the natural definition of marriage (19 states have passed amendments, 26 statutes). Brownback called the issue a "reverse constitutional amendment."
"You have 45 of the 50 states already speaking on this, saying marriage is the union of a man and a woman -- feeling it is so important that they want to act before the Congress can act, before the Constitution can be amended," Brownback said, adding that the amendments on the state level have passed with an average of 71.5 percent support.
Said Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, "This almost seems surreal to me. The last thing I thought I would end up doing, coming to Washington and the United States Senate, would be … having to defend the institution of traditional marriage. I thought some things were given."
Only two sentences, the amendment states: "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, 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."
For more information about the national debate over "gay marriage," visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage