Deseret Morning News, Thursday, March 04, 2004

Senate panel takes up marriage amendment

By Lee Davidson
Deseret Morning News

WASHINGTON  The Senate Judiciary Committee began emotional hearings 
Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex 
marriage  seen either as a last stand for traditional family values or 
an attempt to rob gays of civil rights.

The session made for unusual alliances. Some liberals supported the 
amendment plan, others hated it. Likewise some conservatives praised it, 
and others abhorred it. Ditto for Democrats. And for Republicans. And 
for African-American leaders. And church groups.

Among leaders of the chorus praising the proposed amendment is Sen. 
Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee chairman  although he also says 
alternatives besides a constitutional amendment should be considered 
too.

"It is now clearer to me than ever that courts are usurping the role of 
legislatures by imposing their own definitions of marriage on the 
people, and we must do something about this," Hatch said in a written 
statement. "I think we need to consider amending the Constitution"  and 
said he would vote for a version favored by President Bush.

The hearing comes as the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that state 
must allow gay marriage  and as local officials in California, New 
York, New Mexico and Oregon have begun allowing them. Last week, Bush 
called for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a 
man and a woman.

As couples  of both the married and same-sex variety  crowded the 
hearing room with their children to

serve as symbols of what is at stake, both sides made their arguments 
before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

NAACP President Hilary Shelton opposed the proposed amendment, saying it 
would "discriminate and restrict rather than expand and protect the 
rights for any and all persons."

But the Rev. Richard Richardson of the Black Ministerial Alliance of 
Greater Boston said, "As an African-American, I know something about 
discrimination. . . . The traditional institution of marriage is not 
discrimination. And I find it offensive to call it that."

Richardson said traditional marriage is the best institution to ensure 
that children are raised by a loving mother and father. He said that 
ideal is under attack on many fronts and that disintegrating families 
have dire consequences in inner cities he serves. "Without traditional 
marriage, it is hard to see how our community will be able to thrive."

Agreeing was Daniel de Leon, an Assembly of God pastor representing 
AMEN, a group of Hispanic evangelical churches. "My people know 
something about discrimination. The institution of marriage was not 
created to discriminate against people. It was created to protect 
children and to give them the best home possible  a home with a mother 
and a father."

Disagreeing was Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., ranking subcommittee 
Democrat. "An amendment regarding same-sex marriage would write 
discrimination into the governing document of our nation." He said he 
expects bitter battles, saying, "Taking away a group of people's rights 
forever can never be done in a civil manner."

Likewise, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said, "By endorsing this 
shameful proposed amendment, in a desperate tactic to divide Americans 
in an attempt to salvage his faltering re-election campaign, President 
Bush will go down in history as the first president to try to write bias 
back into the Constitution."

But Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public 
Policy, said most Americans do not believe it would be discrimination. 
"Sixty percent of African-Americans oppose same-sex marriage, as do 60 
percent of white Americans, according to a November Pew poll. . . . Are 
they all bigots?"

While some churches praised the amendment plan, others publicly opposed 
it  including the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations 
and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

And while key Democrats such as Kennedy and Feingold oppose the proposed 
amendment, some Democrats have co-sponsored it. (Among those who have 
publicly supported it is Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.)

And while Hatch and Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., 
support the proposed amendment, Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., joined 
opponents of it in a press conference Wednesday.

Also, many conservatives do not like amending the Constitution at all  
while others want to go even further than Bush to also ban "civil 
unions" for gays. Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop, both R-Utah, 
have not yet endorsed amending the Constitution, saying they want to 
look at all options to defend traditional marriage.

One well-known conservative, Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach, 
blasted the proposed amendment at the hearing. "We strongly oppose the 
notion of addressing this issue of social policy in our nation's 
governing document."

He likened the amendment to another one proposed a century ago to ban 
interracial marriage. Muth said, "If Congress moves forward with this 
current marriage amendment, I suggest that Americans 100 years from now 
will likely look back on this distinguished body with equal amazement, 
if not disgust."

Hatch said more hearings are likely to look at competing amendments and 
other options to defend traditional marriage.

Enacting a constitutional amendment requires passage in both houses of 
Congress by two-thirds majorities and ratification by legislatures in 
three-fourths of the states. Hatch said obtaining a two-thirds majority 
in the Senate this year will be difficult.

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