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April 24, 2004
Column #1,182

                   Support for Federal Marriage Amendment Grows
                               
     This week an Oregon judge gave advocates of gay marriage an historic victory - the nation's first recognition of same-sex marriages.

     Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden told the county to stop issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. But he ordered Oregon's legislature to recognize the 3,022 marriage licenses issued since March 3 to gay couples, and to pass a new law legalizing same-sex unions.

     Does this sound familiar?

     The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that gay couples have the right to marry and ordered the state legislature to make same-sex marriages possible within 180 days. The magic day is May 17, when Massachusetts is slated to begin allowing gay marriage.

     The legislature did not do as it was told. It began the process of passing a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. But the amendment would also legalize civil same-sex unions, which is marriage by another name.

     However, to be adopted, it must re-pass the legislature in 2005 and then be approved by the voters in a 2006 referendum. Gov. Mitt Romney asked the state's highest court to stay its order, pending full Massachusetts acceptance or rejection of the amendment. That's unlikely. The state's Attorney General, a Democrat, supports the court decision, while Romney is a Republican.

     What's common to both cases is fierce judicial activism, in which a court orders the legislature to pass a law granting same-sex couples either the right of marriage or civil union. In studying American history, I learned it is the job of elected leaders to pass laws, and for the courts to interpret them.

     On this issue, however, elected leaders have also acted illegally. San Francisco's mayor ordered city clerks to grant homosexual and lesbian couples marriage licenses, though Californians voted in a referendum that marriage is between a man and a woman.

     One prescient man foresaw these developments and developed a long-shot answer - a U.S. Federal Marriage Amendment that 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."

      Matt Daniels is the man of the hour. Although white, he grew up in Spanish Harlem as a son of a father who deserted his mother when he was only two.

     "My growing up was miserable," he told USA Today. His father was "a gifted and
irresponsible aspiring writer." His mother was a secretary until she was mugged and left disabled, depressed and on welfare. "Things would have been different if my father had been around." Matt was also attacked at knifepoint and gunpoint.

     No wonder Matt Daniels says, "Marriage is the key to reducing the high levels of youth crime and child poverty, caused by the epidemic of fatherless families in America." Inspired by his mother, he excelled at school, won a scholarship to Dartmouth and became a lawyer.

     He created the Alliance for Marriage to craft a Federal Marriage Amendment several years ago. Anticipating the argument that gay marriage is a civil rights issue, he first won the backing of Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. Black denominations were his first national supporters. He now has the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals.

     It was a brilliant strategy. Today a higher percentage of Hispanics and African-Americans say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman - than whites. And public support for the Federal Marriage Amendment has grown from 55 percent last July to 64 percent.

     Equally important, President Bush has given his support, as have 118 Members of
Congress and leading U.S. Senators such as Majority Leader Bill Frist.

     However, the amendment is opposed by such conservative groups as Concerned Women for America. Its president, Janet LaRue, is concerned that the amendment would allow states "to create marriage in another name, a phony marriage." Vermont's law permitting same sex civil unions would be untouched by the amendment.

     Finally, few Democrats in the House or Senate co-sponsor the amendment that must win the support of two-thirds of Congress. 

     So far, the public seems apathetic. Few have called or written Congress.

     Gay marriage is not inevitable, but it is likely unless an aroused public demands the constitutional protection of marriage.

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