FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT (FMA) TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION
Why there is no consensus for or against the FMA
In this essay, and others, "SSM" means "same-sex
Lack of support for the FMA among religious conservatives:
A massive outcry against SSM and in favor of the FMA did not materialize:
Conservative Christian leaders expected a major groundswell from the
public demanding that the FMA be passed. However, as debate begins in the Senate, during the week of 2004-JUL-11,
it had not appeared.
2004-JUN, the Washington Post wrote that: "Evangelical leaders had
predicted that a chorus of righteous anger would rise up out of churches
from coast to coast and overwhelm Congress with letters, e-mails and
phone calls in support of a constitutional
amendment banning gay marriage. But that has not happened."
1 Religious and social
conservatives appear to be accepting SSM in their stride and expressing
little interest in a federal constitutional amendment. Some indications
||On 2004-MAY-14, the Massachusetts Family Institute, the Heritage
Alliance, CatholicVote.org and The Coalition for Marriage
sponsored an anti-same-sex marriage rally in Faneuil
Hall in Boston. Few of the approximately five million residents
of the Boston region appear to be interested in opposing same-sex
marriage. Only about 100 people attended the rally; many of
them were probably from the organizing groups themselves. |
||On the eve of the legalization of SSM in Massachusetts on 2004-MAY-20,
representatives of some gay/lesbian human rights organizations
predicted that the outcry by social and religious conservatives
would be minimal. People would wake up on that Thursday morning and
realize that nothing much had changed. The sun was still shining.
People were going about their lives as always. Really, the only difference was that many loving, committed
same-sex couples who had been living together could finally get
married in the state.|
||Rev. Gary F. Smith, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene
in Leesburg, VA said: "There's quite a bit of lethargy in the
pews. By and large, it's a lay-down-and-roll-over-and-play-dead
||Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said: "Standing on Capitol Hill
listening, you don't hear anything." He suggests that religious
conservatives are still in shock at the legalization of SSM in
Massachusetts, or they are fully occupied fighting for
state DOMA laws, or are distracted by the
war in Iraq and other issues. 2|
||Senator John Cornyn, (R-TX) said: "So
far, it's really been a top-down issue." That is, it has
been promoted by
various conservative religious leaders, but not extensively
supported by the average conservative Christian. 2|
||John Green, is a professor at the University of Akron who specializes in the study of Evangelicals
and politics. He gave a number of reasons for the apparent lethargy
about the FMA:
||Conservatives support states rights, and prefer to settle issues at the state rather
than federal level. This is an important factor Bob Barr, a
Republican and former Representative from Georgia who opposed the FMA before the Senate Judiciary Committee
on 2004-JUN-22. Barr was the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage
Act (DOMA) which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex
marriages performed in other states. He felt that the
FMA unnecessarily tramples states' rights. He
said: "If we begin to treat the Constitution as our personal
sandbox, in which to build and destroy castles as we please, we risk
diluting the grandeur of having a Constitution in the first place."
||The FMA lacks urgency because 39
states have already passed laws against same-sex marriage and, as Green
said: "are not likely to have gay marriages anytime soon."
||"As much as evangelicals and
other Christians are bothered by gay marriage, it may not be
their top priority. Like everybody else, they worry about Iraq
and the economy." 2
||There may be other possible reasons for
the lethargy of the conservative laity:|
||They may not accept the case made
by the Fundamentalist Christian para-church organizations that
allowing same-sex couples to marry will have a major negative
impact on present and future opposite-sex marriages. SSM has been a fact of life in
Ontario, Canada since 2003-JUN and in British Columbia since
2003-JUL. It does not seem to have impacted anyone other than the
committed same-sex couples who have married. No opposite-sex couple
has lost any rights, privileges or obligations since SSM was
||They do not see how same-sex
marriages affect them personally. They might not care if a
committed same-sex couple in the next apartment, or block, or
county, or state married.|
||They may be in shock at the sudden
development of SSM in Massachusetts. |
||They may have accepted the very
low estimates by para-church groups that gays and lesbians only form 1 or
2% of the total adult population. Thus, they may feel that allowing
same-sex couples to marry
would not have any significant impact on the institution of
marriage because of their small numbers.|
||They may see same-sex marriage as
promoting "liberty and justice for all;" -- a move
towards treating everyone fairly and equally. They might class
||The 1967 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed
inter-racial couples to marry anywhere in the country, or
mid-19th century development at the conclusion of the Civil War when
African-Americans were allowed to marry in any state.
||They may see SSM as beneficial to
the gay and lesbian community. Marriage by opposite-sex couples
is known to reduce promiscuity, cause STD
rates to decline, and increase social stability. It might
well have the same effect with same-sex couples.|
||They may feel that same-sex
marriage is an inevitable development that can only be delayed
and not reversed. They might conclude that it is not worth fighting
||They may be concerned about
health and other protections for the children of same-sex couples which can better
be guaranteed through SSM.|
||They may have heard horror stories of
a gay or lesbian being unable to visit their partner in hospital
because the institution did not recognize their relationship.|
||Some might feel that their energy
is better directed at reducing the high opposite-sex divorce rates which are particularly high among
religious conservatives. |
||The FMA would change the U.S. Constitution so that it would zero-in on a
small minority of its citizens -- homosexuals in this case --
and terminate a fundamental rights -- the right to
marry. They might find this to be repugnant and beyond the
acceptable purposes of a Constitution.|
||John Green, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio is a
specialist on religion and politics. He feels that: "Christian
conservatives have a great deal of respect for the Constitution," he
said. "They see the hand of God and divine providence in it.
Therefore, they are often very reluctant to tamper with it."
||Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force suggests that: "Other issues are far
more important to most Americans, including evangelicals -
issues like the economy, jobs, health care, the war in Iraq."
This essay continues below
Pew Research finds little support for FMA:
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press completed a
poll of 1,703 American adults concerning the FMA and other topics. Margin of
error is about 2.4%.
In question 37, they found that:
||32% favored allowing same-sex couples to marry
||59% opposed allowing SSM
||9% had no opinion or refused to answer.
They then asked only the 59% who opposed same-sex marriage for their
opinion on the FMA:
||36% favor the FMA to ban SSM
||21% oppose the FMA
||2% had no opinion or refused to answer.
It seems likely that all of the 32% who
favor SSM would oppose the FMA which would prohibit SSM. Thus, if all the
subjects had been asked for their opinion of the FMA, one could estimate
||36% would have favor the FMA to ban SSM.
||32 + 21 = 53% would oppose the FMA.
||11% would have no opinion or refused to
Support for the FMA was highly dependent on
||54% of Republicans
||29% of Democrats, and
||30% of Independents favored the FMA
The pollsters then zeroed in on the 363
subjects who both:
||Opposed SSM, and
||Opposed the FMA.
They asked why they did not support amending
the constitution. Among those who responded, their reasons were:
|Reason for opposition to the FMA
|Leave the constitution alone. "The way founders wrote it"
|The government should stay out of SSM. "Human rights come
|The question should be left to the states to decide, or other
ways to address
|Just opposed "Amendment unnecessary"
|SSM is not that important an issue
|SSM doesn't belong in the constitution
|FMA would open the door to other amendments
|An amendment wouldn't work "Can't stop people"
|Response did not mention the FMA
Responses total 105% because some subjects gave multiple answers. Because
so few subjects were sampled, the margin of error is about 5%.
The subjects were asked a total of 45 questions. Many dealt with
controversial topics, like Iraq, a bombing in Spain,
The Passion of The Christ movie, 2004 elections. Those questions asked
prior to those on the FMA might have influenced the subjects' responses on
Barna Group survey finds public divided over FMA:
The Barna Group conducted a random poll in late 2004-MAY
among 1,618 American adults concerning two topics: whether they supported
FMA, and whether they approved of the ordination of sexually active gays and
lesbians. The margin of error is within 2.9 percentage points.
Some of their findings were:
||37% of voting-age subject had not heard of the FMA.
The FMA was described to the subjects. Their response was unusually
||46% favored the amendment; 35% strongly, and 11% moderately
||44% opposed it; 31% strongly, and 13% moderately.
||10% had no opinion.
The subjects were also asked whether they favored the consideration of
non-celibate gays and lesbians as clergy. A large percentage were opposed; only about 24% supported
ordination. Unfortunately, when polling subjects are asked their views on
two or more topics, their response to subsequent questions can be influenced
by the nature of the first question. It is not clear which question was
asked first in this poll. If the FMA question was asked later, then negative
feelings left over from the first question might have negatively influenced
the subjects' responses to the FMA.
Researcher George Barna, founder and head of
the Barna Group, noted that: "Evangelicals are strongly supportive of
the marriage amendment, but only about half of the larger group of born
again Christians those who are not evangelical strongly favor such an
amendment. Atheists and agnostics, who reject the Bible as truth, contend
that there is no moral legitimacy to defining marriage as the amendment
would do. The remaining half of the population comprised of notional
Christians and people associated with non-Christian faiths lean toward
letting people make their own choices, without any legal limitations or
Barna compares the situation over the FMA to the debate over
access. He notes that many Americans reject an
abortion for themselves and family because it they consider it immoral. But, many are willing to accept that
their "truth" is not necessarily absolute. They recognize that others have
different criteria for right and wrong that they hold with equal tenacity.
To those others, an abortion might
be the least worse alternative in some situations. So the former believe that abortion should not
be criminalized; it should be available for those who want it and feel that
it is an acceptable option for them. Similarly, many American adults may reject the concept
of SSM, and yet believe that same-sex couples should be able to choose
marriage if they feel that it is important to them. He concludes that many
people oppose certain behaviors, "...but feel compelled to allow that
behavior to take place legally because they also contend that there are no
moral absolutes." 5
James Dobson, "Why we must back the Federal Marriage Amendment,"
Florida Baptist Witness, 2004-JUN-2, at:
Alan Cooperman, "Outcry from pews less than anticipated,"
Washington Post, published by the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader on
"Gov. Romney testifies for F.M.A. in D.C.," Massachusetts
Family Institute, E-alert, 2004-JUN-25.
David Kirpatrik, "Foes of gay marriage want more outrage," New York Times,
2004-MAY-17 at: http://www.iht.com/articles/520154.html
"Public Divided On Marriage Amendment," The Barna Group,
Daniel Burke, "Both Sides Prepare for Gay Marriage Showdown in
Senate," Beliefnet, 2004-JUL-8, at:
"Far more voters believe election outcome matters," Pew
Research, 2004-MAR-25, at:
"Additional Findings and Analyses," Pew Research, approx.
Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2004-JUN-16
Latest update: 2004-JUL-11
Author: B.A. Robinson