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 June 7, 2006
Column #1,293
Marriage Amendment Debated
by Michael J. McManus

This week the U.S. Senate debated the Marriage Protection Amendment for three days.  As it began, belatedly, President Bush weighed in with why the Amendment is needed:

"Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges. Since 2004 state courts in Washington and California and Maryland and New York have ruled against marriage laws. Last year a federal judge in Nebraska overturned a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, an amendment that was approved by 70 percent of the population."

However, he was ignored by the press. If his statement had any visibility, journalists muttered he was only trying to appeal to his "right wing base."

On the Senate floor Sen. Richard Durbin agreed, "It's not about preservation of marriage. It's about the preservation of the majority, the Republican majority. That's the `M' word that's behind this debate." He noted a poll found it ranked only 33rd in importance.

But if asked whether they support gay marriage, three-fifths of Americans say no, and a majority in a Gallup Poll support the Amendment.

Further, a new Religious Coalition for Marriage backed it, that goes far beyond  Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.  It included eight Catholic Cardinals, the African-American Church of God in Christ and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Others:  Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Missouri Synod Lutherans, plus Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches.

These denominations involve 100 million members.

"This is unprecedented," said Princeton Prof. Robert George, a key organizer. "Despite historical theological divisions, (we) are saying with a united voice that we do not want to go where activist judges have taken us. I hope we are sending a message to the politicians from the religious people of America."

"Robby" George was also an activist behind a second initiative: 50 distinguished scholars also issued a landmark paper, "Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles." 

They argued that the case for  marriage as the union of a man and a woman "can be made and won at the level of reason.  Marriage protects children, men and women and the common good."  It offers "men and women as spouses a good they can have in no other way: a mutual and complete giving of the self." To see it go to

The scholars added, "Law and public policy will either reinforce and support these goals or undermine them." Therefore, they also called for divorce law reforms, ending marriage penalties for low-income Americans and protecting children "from the fertility industry" by limiting in vitro fertilization to married couples.

Democratic Senators stoutly opposed the Amendment. "A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry - pure and simple," argued Sen. Ted Kennedy. He noted that Massachusetts has had 8,000 gay marriages but also has America's lowest divorce rate. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid asserted the amendment would "write discrimination into the Constitution." 

By contrast, Sen. Sam Brownback cogently argued: "This issue is going to be defined by either the courts or the legislative bodies, period. We seek to have it defined by legislative bodies. If the courts do it, they will define marriage as any sort of relationship anyone wants to have. That will hurt children and define marriage out of existence. This is not an issue of bigotry. It is an issue of the family."

Minutes before the vote, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions reported that Alabama voted Tuesday by 81 percent to adopt a one man, one woman constitutional amendment, the 20th state to do so.  However, one judge can invalidate it, as one did in Georgia recently.

At a press conference outside the Senate, African-American Bishop Harry Jackson lamented, "In 1970 two-thirds of African-Americans were in monogamous marital relationships. By 2000 we had dropped to only about a third of black families in those committed relationships.

"In the countries that have experimented with same-sex marriage - Sweden and the Netherlands - there has been an increase of out-of-wedlock births, and declining marriage, all the things happening to the black community today. If we don't do something, we may face an America in ten years where only one out of every ten children is born to an intact family. We don't want an America like that."

However, the vote was 49-48 - not the 60 needed to close debate and force a vote, or 67 needed to pass an Amendment. 

Perhaps the Supreme Court itself will have to approve gay marriage for an Amendment to get a two-thirds vote in Congress.

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