MARRIAGE AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION
How the U.S. Constitution is amended:
The framers of the U.S. Constitution made it very difficult to amend
the document. They may have feared that the government might want to strip
away rights from a specific group of people because of irrational fear of,
or hatred towards that group.
The amending process is contained in Article V of the Constitution:
||Either the House or the Senate must pass an amending bill, with more
than a two thirds vote in favor.
||The other body of the Congress would then have to pass the bill,
again with a vote of two thirds or more in favor.
||Three fourths of the states would then have to ratify the bill.
It is extremely difficult to get 67% of senators or representatives to
vote in favor of anything. It is even more difficult to get 38 states to
ratify something. There would undoubtedly be major divisions, between
Northern and Southern states; between agricultural and industrial states;
between states dominated by conservative Christians, and states with a
greater religious diversity, etc.
"It has been accepted that Congress may, in proposing an amendment,
set a reasonable time limit for its ratification. Beginning with the
Eighteenth Amendment, save for the Nineteenth, Congress has included
language in all proposals stating that the amendment should be inoperative
unless ratified within seven years." 1
There exists a second path for amendments, which involves the calling
of a Constitutional Convention. However, "...it has never been
successfully invoked" and it "is surrounded by a lengthy list of
This essay continues below.
Would a constitutional amendment be permanent?
The Marriage Amendment is being promoted as a permanent solution
that will guarantee that the institution of marriage, and the benefits
derived from marriage, will be forever restricted to opposite-sex couples.
The American Family Association, for example, writes: "The ultimate outcome of our coming national culture war over gay marriage will either be legal gay marriage throughout the
United States, or passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment." 2
However, this may not be an accurate
assessment. Constitutional amendments do have immense authority. But they
are not necessarily permanent. A Marriage Amendment may be passed by
Congress and ratified by sufficient states so that it becomes part of the
U.S. Constitution. However, it can also be repealed through the same
The 18th Amendment prohibiting the consumption
of alcohol is a prior example. In 1915, many Congressional candidates
supported by the Anti-Saloon League were voted into office. On
1917-DEC-18, Congress passed the Amendment. In little over one year --
1919-JAN-16 -- it was ratified by the states. The Amendment was partially
successful; the average consumption of alcohol dropped from about 2.5 to 1
gallon per year. However, a movement began to form to repeal the Amendment.
"Prohibition of alcohol was seen as an affront to personal liberty,
pushed on the nation by religious moralists. Alcohol was also seen as a
source of revenue for the local and national governments. The effort to
elect "wet" legislators was as grand as that to elect "dry" ones almost two
decades earlier. The Congress passed the [21st] amendment on February 20,
1933....the ratification process was complete on December 5, 1933. The 21st
Amendment repealed the 18th, the first time an amendment had been repealed
by another." 8
History might repeat itself with the proposed
Marriage Amendment. If both houses of Congress and three out of four
state legislatures were to mirror accurately the current desires of the
public, then an Amendment could be ratified. However, there is a very strong
age component in the public's perception of sexual orientation and same-sex
marriage. The youth of the country are far more liberal than are the
political leaders on this topic. They tend to accept homosexuality and
bisexuality as normal and natural sexual orientations for a minority of
adults. In a generation or so, present-day youth will become the political
leadership of tomorrow. Any Marriage Amendment ratified early in the
21st century might well be repealed before 2030.
What benefits, rights and privileges are granted to married couples?
The Federal Government's General Accounting
Office identified federal laws which grant special benefits, rights and privileges
to married couples. They were able to find over 1,000 federal benefits
given to married couples. Individual states typically grant on the
order of 400 additional benefits. All of these benefits, rights and privileges are "legal
incidents" given to married couples. Under the proposed
amendment, none of them could be extended to
- Whether they are common-law couples who are simply living together,
or couples who have registered their relationship with the state,
- Whether they are a same-sex, homosexual couple or an opposite-sex,
Whether they have gone through a civil union ceremony at the local
congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association
or the Metropolitan Community Church or other religious group.
||Granting status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions where
one partner is too ill to be competent.
||Automatic inheritance in the absence of a will.
||Bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner.
||Bereavement or sick leave to care for a child.
||Protections arising from a separation or divorce: e.g. community
property and child support.
And many, many more. A surprising number relate to the
protection of children of the relationship. A partial list is at our
essay on marital benefits. A complete list is
available on the General Accounting Office's web site. 2
Who is promoting the amendment?
A few of the main promoters of this bill are:
|| Values Action Team (VAT): This is a group of federal
legislators who promote conservative Christian values. It has been
called an "inside-outside coalition" that links members of
Congress with outside groups. They were formed
in 1998 as an offshoot of the Values Summit of that year. 3
"Weekly meetings...now draw over 30 pro-family outside groups."
4 VAT operates from the office of
GOP Majority Whip Tom DeLay. According to the Boston Globe newspaper,
VAT was formed to "coordinate legislative strategy with conservative
groups that included the Christian Coalition, the Family Research
Council and the National Right to Life Committee." They have
been active in a number of areas:|
||Promoting the Religious Freedom Amendment to permit organized
prayer in public school classrooms.
||Abolishing funding for some groups, like the National Endowment for the Arts,
which they feel promotes "filth," pornography and
||Criminalizing D&X abortion, sometimes
called partial birth
||Removing information on preventing sexually transmitted disease
and pregnancy from sex-ed classes in public schools, allowing only
information on sexual abstinence.
||Promoting display of the Ten Commandments in public schools and on
||Allowing non-profit religious groups to endorse partisan political
candidates, and funnel parishioner's donations into political campaigns.
These are activities that the IRS does not currently permit for
||Alliance for Marriage: This is a non-profit agency headed by
Rev. Walter Fauntroy. It was identified by the Washington Times as "the
organization behind the measure." It is supported by many Fundamentalist Christian advocacy groups and by "two of the
denominations in the United States, with more than 19 million members."|
||American Family Association (AFA): The AFA is a non-profit
organization founded in 1977 by Don Wildmon. Their effort is primarily
concentrated on what they feel are negative influences on society of television, other media, pornography,
etc. . One of the issues that they have been promoting
recently is the Marriage Amendment.|
||Family Research Council (FRC): James Dobson of the
fundamentalist Christian organization Focus on the Family played
a major role in the founding of the FRC in the early 1980s to "drive
the national debate on family issues." The FRC organized its
Center for Marriage and Family Studies in 2003-APR to promote
stronger heterosexual marriages by disseminating
policy papers and other major publications, by sponsoring lectures, and
by publishing their monthly E-mail newsletter "CultureFacts." 5|
||Marriage Protection Week is an outreach of the American
Family Association. Donald E Wildman, chairperson of the AFA has
written: "Marriage Protection Week is our opportunity to defend and
promote traditional marriage between a man and a woman as the
God-ordained building block of the family and bedrock of a civil
society. It's time to work together as we never have to protect
marriage." Part of this movement to protect marriage is to continue
to exclude same-sex couples from the institution. |
The first Marriage Protection Week was held on 2003-OCT-12 to 18. It is
expected to be a yearly observance. Many organizations are co-sponsoring
Marriage Protection Week: American Association of Christian Schools,
American Cause, American Family Association, Americans United for Life,
American Values, Bott Broadcasting, Christian Coalition, Citizens for
Community Values, Concerned Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries,
Eagle Forum, Empower America, Faith2Action, Family Research Council,
Focus on the Family, Free Congress Foundation, HSLDA, INSP Broadcasting,
National Religious Broadcasters, NCPCF, Prison Fellowship, Religious
Freedom Coalition, SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Smalley
Relationship Center, Traditional Values Coalition, Truth in Love Outreach, University of the
Family, USA Radio Network, and World Magazine.
"Proposing a Constitutional Amendment," FindLaw,
Letter from the General Accounting Office to Rep. Henry J Hyde,
http://www.gao.gov/archive/1997/og97016.pdf You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
"Religious group, house clique behind new marriage amendment,"
American Atheists' AAANEWS, 2002-MAY-22.
"Values Action Team," Republican Study Committee, at:
"About FRC," at:
"Marriage Protection Week: October 12-18, 2003," American
Family Association, at:
"Marriage Protection Week: More information," American Family
Steve Mount, "The U.S. Constitution Online," (2003) at:
Copyright © 2002 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-MAY-26
Latest update: 2004-MAY-1
Author: B.A. Robinson