Representative Ronnie Shows, (D-MS) introduced a bill into the
House of Representatives on 2002-MAY-15, popularly called the "Marriage Amendment."
By month end, the bill had 11 co-sponsors, including Representatives David
Phelps (D-IL), Ralph Hall (D-TX), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Jo Ann Davis (R-VA)
and Chris Cannon (R-UT), and others. 1 If successful, it would become
the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would have major, long-term, cultural,
moral and social
The amendment, as introduced, stated:
"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." 2
The first sentence is quite clear. It would continue the
definition of marriage as it exists in all but one state:
All states already have laws and regulations that
either define, or imply, or assume that marriage is restricted to opposite-gendered couples -- a
bride and a groom. The first sentence in the proposed amendment simply reinforces regulations
legislation that existed in every state, from Vermont to Hawaii;
from Alaska to Florida. Marriage has already been restricted to one woman and one
man. However, in 2003-NOV the Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusettsruled that there was a conflict between the state's marriage laws and
the constitutional requirement that men and women be treated
equally. The court ordered the state to start issuing marriage
licenses to same-sex couples. The proposed amendment would overrule
the Supreme Judicial Court's
Most states have recently-passed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) laws which
reinforce the definition of marriage as being between one man and one
When the state of Vermont created a new type of family for gays and
lesbians that granted them all of the benefits normally given only to married
couples, they simply called it a "civil union."
This avoided having any impact on the rights of married Vermont
couples -- both present and future.
Similarly, when California introduced
domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, they avoided any
impact on the rights of opposite-sex couples.
This first sentence in the amendment would
prevent any state from adopting the same type of legislation that was
recently created in the Netherlands. In late
1999, the definition of marriage was expanded in that country to include
same-sex couples. Gay and lesbian Dutch engaged couples can now get a marriage
license-- just as any other couple -- and then marry. They can also adopt.
They have received the full privileges that were previously considered
special rights -- those restricted to heterosexual married couples only.
The sentence would also prevent courts from requiring states to issue
regular marriage licenses to same-sex marriages, and register their
marriages as happened starting in 2003 and 2004 in
Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, Canada.
The second sentence has been interpreted by different groups
in various ways, including:
To its supporters, it is merely preserving the status quo. It
would prevent the courts or legislatures from allowing same-sex couples
to marry. It would not inhibit any state legislature from
creating civil unions or giving unmarried persons some of the rights and
benefits of married people.
To its detractors, it would permanently strip away rights
from all common-law couples: same-sex and opposite sex. This
includes benefits granted through civil unions
(as in Vermont), or domestic partnerships
(as in California), or common-law opposite-sex relationships. It
bans any benefits that the states or federal
governments may wish to grant to them in the future.
Everyone agrees that the amendment would not directly affect any
employee benefits offered by employers. However, the amendment's eventual
success or failure will affect the mood of the public towards all
common-law couples, and in particular towards gays, lesbians and bisexuals
in loving, committed, same-sex relationships. This will probably have a
major impact on the mood of employers towards their employees, and thus
indirectly influence the willingness of companies to extend benefits to
its employees who are not married.
The term "groups" at the end of the amendment
appears to refer to multiple
relationships involving more than two individuals. This is apparently a reference
to polygamy (usually either polygyny -- one man and multiple women -- or and polyandry
-- one woman and multiple men). Such family arrangements are extremely rare in
the U.S., expect among some small Mormon sects. However, polygyny was
once common among
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, the Mormons. The Church suspended the practice in the late 19th century
after they reported a special revelation from God. The proposed amendment would prevent the
main Mormon church from reinstating polygyny, although there is no indication that
they plan to do so. In fact, they have excommunicated their own members
who practice this practice. Polygyny was also
common in Israel during biblical times. Some
renowned men described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) had
multiple wives, many female salves and many concubines.
Comments from supporters of the amendment:
AANEWS reports: "Executive Director Matt Daniels [of Alliance for Marriage]:
told the [Washington] Times that the proposed amendment 'simply protects the
legal status quo from being changed by the courts.' He also accused
gays and lesbians of trying to make 'an end run around public opinion and
the democratic process' by going to court to guarantee their rights."
According to the Alliance for Marriage's own web site, the
amendment would preclude "...the courts...from distorting existing constitutional or statutory law into
a requirement that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be
reallocated pursuant to a judicial decree." 4 Their
web site states that civil unions or domestic partnerships could not be
imposed by the courts, but could still be created by state legislatures. Also,
under the amendment, state governments would be free to grant, to common-law
or civil unionized couples, some or all benefits that
are given to married couples. The
Alliance views the
amendment as not a big deal. It merely preserves the current status of
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, of the
Roman Catholic church's Philadelphia diocese, praised an earlier version of
the amendment in 2001: "I commend all the men and
women of various races, faiths and political parties who have
committed themselves to the task of promoting the sacred dignity and
value of marriage through this amendment."
Comments from those opposed to the amendment:
Some groups believe that the wording of the second sentence would strip away
certain rights, benefits, and privileges from families,
including children, of unmarried spouses. Any rights
given to married couples under present or future legislation could not
not be also given to common-law couples, or to "civil unionized" couples
as they have been in
Vermont, or to "domestic partners" in California as they are
scheduled to receive at the start of 2005. It would change the
legal status of tens millions of couples in the U.S., and their children.
In an attempt to oppress homosexuals, the supporters of the amendment
would create major hardship for non-married couples, most of whom are
heterosexual. The media concentrated on the same-sex couple aspects of the
proposed amendment. The stripping away of rights of common-law
opposite-sex couples rarely appears in newspapers or TV programs.
According to AANEWS: "Christopher Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the
measure would invalidate numerous state and local domestic partnership
laws. 'With only a few exceptions, most of the anti-gay attacks in Congress
are the legal equivalent of sticks and stones.' He compared the
legislation with 'a nuclear bomb,' adding 'It will wipe out every
single law protecting gay and lesbian families and other unmarried
couples.' " 5
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that the
"...Define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman," and
"Invalidate all state and local domestic partnership laws"
which currently exist in eight states and over 100 cities, towns and
"Nullify civil rights protections based on marital status,"
"...Prohibit state and local governments from making their own
decisions on providing benefits to their employees."
The ACLU points out that the range of rights that would be wiped out is
immense. For example, there are many state laws which protect unmarried
elderly couples who decide to not marry because they could not handle the
reduction of their pensions. There are laws that assure same-sex partners
that they will have access to their spouse in the hospital. There are even state laws that allow a person
to oppose the autopsy of a close friend or partner because of the
deceased's religious beliefs. All would be suddenly become
unconstitutional if the amendment were passed.
The ACLU points out that none of the existing 27 amendments to the U.S.
Constitution have restricted individual freedoms. Many have granted new
freedoms. The proposed amendment
would be the only one that would strip away rights and freedoms. It would
affect people from
all walks of life, of both genders and all sexual orientations.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is "the nationís
oldest and largest legal organization, dedicated to achieving full
recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals,
transgender people, and people with HIV or AIDS." David Buckel, senior
staff attorney and coordinator of the Lambda's Legal Marriage Project,
comments: "We agree with the proponents of the constitutional amendment
that marriage is important, and thatís precisely why every loving couple
and family needs access to it...To take the extraordinary step of amending
the Constitution to prohibit states from giving gay couples and their
children the legal protections they need and deserve is an affront to
justice." Lambda feels that: "many families can be strengthened by
the rights and responsibilities that civil marriage provides. For example,
with marriage a spouse can:
Protect children through a strengthened parent-child
Rely on financial support from the other spouse;
Participate in health care and medical decisions, and have
Take medical leave to care for an ill spouse;
Automatically inherit the home and personal possessions."
H.J. Res. 93. To see a copy of the bill, go to Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet at http://thomas.loc.gov
and enter H.J. Res. 93 in the Bill Number box and click on Search.
"Religious group, house clique behind new marriage amendment,"
American Atheists' AAANEWS, 2002-MAY-22.
"Multicultural marriage coalition introduces the federal marriage
amendment in Congress today with bi-partisan support: Strong Bi-Partisan
Sponsorship Reflects The Fact that the Future of Marriage In America Is
More Important Than Partisan Politics," Alliance for Marriage,
"Religious group, house clique behind new marriage amendment,"
American Atheists' AAANEWS, 2002-MAY-22.
"Lambda Legal Condemns Attempt to Amend U.S. Constitution to Prohibit
Marriage by Lesbian and Gay Couples: Leading Gay Rights Legal Group
Calls Move A 'Cynical Political Ploy'," Lambda Legal Defense and
Education Fund, 2002-MAY-15, at: