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Tuesday, March 23, 2004  

News: Gay marriage amendment on shaky ground

Our national nannies are redirecting their fire in regard to the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The Washington Post has the story.

WASHINGTON, March 22 — The Congressional authors of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage introduced a slightly reworded version on Monday, saying the changes were intended to make it clear that they do not seek to bar same-sex civil unions allowed by state law.

As they prepared for a Senate hearing on Tuesday to examine the wording of potential amendments, advocates said the mainly technical revisions were meant to broaden support for the initiative and blunt the appeal of alternatives that could leave the definition of marriage up to individual states.

"This has got the ingredients that we need to have in it," said Senator Wayne Allard, the main sponsor along with a fellow Republican from Colorado, Representative Marilyn Musgrave. Mr. Allard said the changes would "reinforce the authority of state legislatures to determine benefits issues related to civil unions or domestic partnerships."

The original plan cobbled together by the Christian Coalition and other Right Wing organizations was meant to keep even the proverbial camel's breath out of the tent. It was to be made explicit that none of the rights of marriage were available to homosexuals. As I previously wrote, that proposal was rejected because the more moderate backers believed it would never attract the needed support, even from fellow conservatives.

But almost as soon as the Arlington meeting began, the discussion turned to a debate over the language of an amendment. For years, the Alliance for Marriage, an ecumenical group, had pushed for a constitutional amendment to prevent courts from forcing states or the country to recognize same-sex marriages. Echoing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, the proposed amendment would allow state legislatures to recognize gay civil unions, a provision that had alienated many conservatives. Though the proposed amendment had been introduced in Congress last spring, the Christian Coalition was one of the few organizations in the Arlington group to support it. [The New York Times.]

Though some of the most hardline left the fold, the proposal that emerged fit the model the Alliance for Marriage wanted. It offers a compromise, recognition of quasi-marital rights in lieu of allowing gays to wed.

Right Wingers who believe the sanctity of marriage is being assailed don't want to compromise.

But the revisions quickly drew criticism as a gay rights group said it left the status of civil unions uncertain and a conservative group said it went too far in recognizing such unions.

"They are using that as a selling point; we find it as a detriment," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, which is affiliated with Concerned Women for America, a conservative group. "Why is that a good thing, when civil unions are gay marriage by another name and will lead to the destruction of marriage?"

Advocates for gay marriage are concerned about what they perceive as increasing ambiguity in the language of the proposed amendment. They fear such language would be used to deprive homosexuals of benefits even in states that allow civil unions.

In the revised amendment, the first sentence remains intact: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." The second and final sentence, which had come under fire for being hard to interpret, now says: "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 woman."

The main change was a dropped reference to state or federal law, a revision that backers say should erase concern that it would ban same-sex civil unions in states where the legislature had voted to allow them. However, they say, the amendment would not allow courts to recognize civil unions strictly on the basis of an interpretation of the federal or a state constitution.

I am doubtful the constituional amendment as currently phrased would win the votes of two-thirds of the House and Senate, the requirement for it to pass. It seems that I am not alone in my skepticism. But, is there a solution? Any language that does not make a Plessy v. Ferguson-like accommodation between gays and straights will dissatisfy the Christian fundamentalists who are most opposed to gay marriage. A refusal to allow homosexuals more marital-type rights than they have now will alienate gays and their straight supporters. In my opinion, that is all the more reason to let the states decide this matter. After a few years of experimenation, I believe most of them would allow gay marriage. Eventually, a reconstituted Supreme Court of the United States might rule on the issue, probably favorably.

7:47 PM