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FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT (FMA) TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

Why there is no consensus for or against the FMA

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In this essay, and others, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage."

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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.

In 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 are:

bulletOn 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.
bulletOn 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.
bulletRev. 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 attitude." 2
bulletTony 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
bulletSenator 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
bulletJohn 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:
bulletConservatives 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." 3
bulletThe 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."
bullet"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
bulletThere may be other possible reasons for the lethargy of the conservative laity:
bulletThey 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 legalized.
bulletThey 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.
bulletThey may be in shock at the sudden development of SSM in Massachusetts.
bulletThey 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.
bulletThey may see same-sex marriage as promoting "liberty and justice for all;" -- a move towards treating everyone fairly and equally. They might class it with:
bulletThe 1967 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed inter-racial couples to marry anywhere in the country, or
bulletThe mid-19th century development at the conclusion of the Civil War when African-Americans were allowed to marry in any state.
bulletThey 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.
bulletThey 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 against.
bulletThey may be concerned about health and other protections for the children of same-sex couples which can better be guaranteed through SSM.
bulletThey 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.
bulletSome might feel that their energy is better directed at reducing the high opposite-sex divorce rates which are particularly high among religious conservatives.
bulletThe 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.
bulletJohn 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." 6
bulletMatt 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." 4

This essay continues below

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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:

bullet32% favored allowing same-sex couples to marry
bullet59% opposed allowing SSM
bullet9% had no opinion or refused to answer.

They then asked only the 59% who opposed same-sex marriage for their opinion on the FMA:

bullet36% favor the FMA to ban SSM
bullet21% oppose the FMA
bullet2% had no opinion or refused to answer. 7

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 that:

bullet36% would have favor the FMA to ban SSM.
bullet32 + 21 = 53% would oppose the FMA.
bullet11% would have no opinion or refused to answer.

Support for the FMA was highly dependent on party affiliation:

bullet54% of Republicans
bullet29% of Democrats, and
bullet30% of Independents favored the FMA 8

The pollsters then zeroed in on the 363 subjects who both:

bulletOpposed SSM, and
bulletOpposed 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 % Response
Leave the constitution alone. "The way founders wrote it" 18
The government should stay out of SSM. "Human rights come first" 14
The question should be left to the states to decide, or other ways to address 11
Just opposed "Amendment unnecessary" 10
SSM is not that important an issue 8
SSM doesn't belong in the constitution 6
FMA would open the door to other amendments 5
An amendment wouldn't work "Can't stop people" 2
Other reasons 9
Don't know 9
Response did not mention the FMA 13

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 this topic.

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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:

bullet37% of voting-age subject had not heard of the FMA.

The FMA was described to the subjects. Their response was unusually evenly split:

bullet46% favored the amendment; 35% strongly, and 11% moderately
bullet44% opposed it; 31% strongly, and 13% moderately.
bullet10% 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 parameters."

Barna compares the situation over the FMA to the debate over abortion 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

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References used:

  1. James Dobson, "Why we must back the Federal Marriage Amendment," Florida Baptist Witness, 2004-JUN-2, at: http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/
  2. Alan Cooperman, "Outcry from pews less than anticipated," Washington Post, published by the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader on 2004-JUN-20 at: http://www.kentucky.com/
  3. "Gov. Romney testifies for F.M.A. in D.C.," Massachusetts Family Institute, E-alert, 2004-JUN-25.
  4. David Kirpatrik, "Foes of gay marriage want more outrage," New York Times, 2004-MAY-17 at: http://www.iht.com/articles/520154.html
  5. "Public Divided On Marriage Amendment," The Barna Group, 2004-JUN-21, at: http://www.barna.org/
  6. Daniel Burke, "Both Sides Prepare for Gay Marriage Showdown in Senate," Beliefnet, 2004-JUL-8, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  7. "Far more voters believe election outcome matters," Pew Research, 2004-MAR-25, at: http://people-press.org/
  8. "Additional Findings and Analyses," Pew Research, approx. 2004-MAR-25, at: http://people-press.org/

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUN-16
Latest update: 2004-JUL-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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