The Senate majority leader said Sunday that he supports a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages in the United States. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the Supreme Court's decision last week striking down sodomy laws threatens to make the American home a place where criminality is condoned. On Thursday the high court threw out a Texas law that prohibited acts of consensual same-sex sodomy, saying that such a prohibition violates defendants' privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution. The ruling invalidated the Texas law and similar statutes in 12 other states.
"I have this fear that this zone of privacy that we all want protected in our own homes is gradually--or I'm concerned about the potential for it gradually--being encroached upon, where criminal activity within the home would in some way be condoned," Frist told ABC's This Week. "And I'm thinking of--whether it's prostitution or illegal commercial drug activity in the home...to have the courts come in, in this zone of privacy, and begin to define it gives me some concern."
Asked whether he supports an amendment that would ban any marriage in the United States except opposite-sex unions, Frist said, "I absolutely do, of course I do. I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament, and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between, what is traditionally in our Western values has been defined, as between a man and a woman. So I would support the amendment."
Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) was the main sponsor of the proposal, offered May 21 to amend the Constitution. It was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution on Wednesday, the day before the high court ruled on Texas's sodomy law.
As drafted, the proposal reads:
"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 under state or federal law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
In order for the amendment to pass, the proposal must be approved by two thirds of the House and Senate and ratified by three fourths of the states.
Frist said Sunday that he respects the Supreme Court decision but feels the justices overstepped their bounds. "Generally, I think matters such as sodomy should be addressed by the state legislatures," Frist said. "That's where those decisions--with the local norms, the local mores--are being able to have their input in reflected. And that's where it should be decided, and not in the courts."
The majority leader's comments supporting the antigay amendment have upset gay activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties. "Such sentiments are not inclusive, not compassionate, and not at all different from the expressed views of the Republican he replaced, Trent Lott," said Dave Noble, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Added Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans: "We need a defense against terrorism and a defense against tax increases, not a defense against marriage that will unnecessarily divide the American family. Following last week's Supreme Court decision affirming our fundamental privacy rights and calling for basic respect for gay and lesbian Americans, we expected a backlash from the radical right. We expect better from thoughtful elected representatives. They need to get their priorities straight."