Skip to comments.Mass. reps. oppose gay marriage ban
Posted on 09/03/2003 12:18:05 PM PDT by pabianice
Amendment on gay marriage picks up steam, local reps begin work to block passage
The current proposal to ban gay marriage through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution has rapidly picked up congressional support this summer. The Massachusetts congressional delegation, however, overwhelmingly opposes the bill.
Contacted by Bay Windows, nine of the 12 Democratic delegates expressed strong opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), sponsored by Colorado Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. The office of first district Rep. Richard E. Neal did not respond to Bay Windows' requests for comment on the proposed amendment.
Rep. John W. Olver was out of the country and unavailable to comment for this story, according to deputy press secretary Jessica Schafer. While he has yet to take a formal position on the FMA, "Congressman Olver's been a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights and he's been opposed to amending the Constitution," said Schafer, who noted Olver's vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Rep. Barney Frank has long been a vocal opponent of the measure; he co-authored a July 15 letter to House members with fellow openly gay Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., urging them to oppose the FMA.
The general lack of support for the FMA among Bay State congressmen may not be surprising given that the delegation unanimously opposed last year's proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in Massachusetts. In a rare move, the congressmen signed on to a letter urging state legislators to reject the measure, known as the Protection of Marriage Amendment. Additionally, each of the congressmen received a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) 2001-2002 congressional scorecard for supporting gay-friendly legislation.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the times is the strong statement against the FMA by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch. Lynch, who faced fierce opposition from the gay community in the 2001 race for his ninth district seat because of his history of not supporting gay rights - including domestic partnership benefits - as a state senator from South Boston, has clearly progressed on the issue: "In the past, society chose not to acknowledge that gay people exist, and that approach has been a failure and frankly it's over," he said in a statement to Bay Windows. "Simply put, I think we should acknowledge the existence of gay unions under our laws. The Federal Marriage Amendment would preclude that. For that reason, I must oppose the amendment. I have never viewed the U.S. Constitution as a vehicle to take rights and protections away from the American people."
The text of the FMA states, "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." It currently has 76 House co-sponsors, including six Democrats. Supporters of the measure argue that should pending court cases in Massachusetts and other states legalize gay marriage, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law banning gay marriage, would be vulnerable to challenge on constitutional grounds. The only way to prevent gay marriage from become the law of the land, they have concluded, would be to amend the Constitution. President Bush, who is against gay marriage, has said that White House lawyers are studying the issue in anticipation of a ruling favoring the gay plaintiffs in Massachusetts.
The FMA has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Wisconsin Republican Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner recently stated his belief that the amendment is unnecessary and will not be taken up in the near future. But Mass. Rep. William D. Delahunt, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, is apparently taking no chances. According to Delahunt's Legislative Director Mark Agrast, Delahunt is a member of a House working group that is educating lawmakers about why the amendment is a bad idea. "We don't want to wait for it to come to us. We need to move early. So [Delahunt] has been and will continue to be quite active" in opposing the amendment, said Agrast.
Though the measure has yet to be introduced in the Senate, a Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution will hold a Sept. 4 hearing on whether the amendment is necessary. According to Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the senior senator plans to testify against the amendment. "He opposes that amendment and he'll be attending the hearing," said Cutter. "Sen. Kennedy has been a leader in the Senate on gay rights for many, many years and feels it's important to be there."
In an even more promising development, several Bay State delegates also expressed strong support for full equality for same-sex couples and recognized the difference between civil and religious marriage - a distinction supporters of same-sex marriage say is crucial to their efforts. "I strongly believe in equal rights and protections for gay men and women in this country. It's important to distinguish between religious marriage and the more than 1,000 protections, responsibilities and rights granted by governments under civil marriage," said Rep. James P. McGovern in a statement. "I believe that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have access to basic rights such as Social Security survivor benefits, hospital visitation, and others."
"I do not support the proposed federal marriage amendment," said Rep. Michael E. Capuano, in an e-mailed statement to Bay Windows. "To me, marriage is a contract and if two consenting adults wish to enter into that contract, with all of its accompanying rights and responsibilities, then the government should not deny them that opportunity." Capuano recently endorsed same-sex civil marriage in an interview with Bay Windows.
Congressman Edward J. Markey also drew a line between religious and civil marriage. "I disagree with those who argue that the federal government has an interest in amending the Constitution in order to limit marriage to heterosexuals," he stated. "Proponents argue that such arrangements better advance the 'main object' of marriage - that is, procreation and child-rearing. Certainly many religions hold this to be true - including my own - but we are not talking here about how the church should handle religious unions, but rather how the state should handle civil unions.
"In my view, it makes no more sense for the government to deny civil marriage status to a committed gay couple than to deny marriage to two people just because they are of two different races," said Markey.
Such positions, however, contrast with those of Sen. John F. Kerry, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. While Kerry expressed support for civil unions, in a statement to Bay Windows, he reiterated his previously stated opposition to gay marriage.
"I would not vote to recognize same-sex marriage and I would not support the recognition of gay marriages by state governments, an action that would, I believe, forever alter the definition of marriage in our society," said Kerry.
Nonetheless, he expressed perhaps the harshest critique of the FMA. "I believe that the amendment is nothing more than an unnecessary act of gay-bashing and that those seeking to do so are chiefly motivated by political considerations and the desire to divide Americans," he charged. "I also have concerns that the amendment could have the effect of denying gay and lesbian Americans important and basic equal benefits."
Aside from basic equality issues, McGovern also takes issue with the fact that the FMA would infringe on states' rights to decide on marriage for themselves - a position articulated by Vice President Dick Cheney during the 2000 campaign, and the basis on which some conservatives oppose the proposed amendment. "It's a bad ideal to try to bar same-sex marriages by means of a Constitutional amendment," said McGovern. "Family law has always fallen under state jurisdiction, and it should stay there."
Likewise, Rep. John F. Tierney noted the irony that Republican supporters of the amendment have seemingly abandoned their mantra of "states' rights."
"These people are all for states' rights until something like this," said Tierney, who is a supporter of civil unions.
(Laura Kiritsy is the Associate Editor at Bay Windows. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Comments, criticism or praise regarding this article or writer -- or just about any other subject of interest to the lesbian and gay community -- are always welcome.)
(caption: Media Credit: Courtesy of US Senate Senator John Kerry)
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