Democratic senators said Thursday that they oppose a constitutional amendment to preserve the definition of marriage as a man-woman union, saying that the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as such, is not at risk. They were responding to witnesses at a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing who are pushing for an amendment because they believe that DOMA may soon be challenged in court. "No courts have questioned that law.... I don't think anyone has seriously suggested that law is in danger," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
DOMA was passed in 1996. It denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to ignore same-sex marriages allowed elsewhere. Some politicians, including President Bush, have been concerned that U.S. courts might overturn the federal law. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he organized the hearing to determine whether more laws would be needed to strengthen DOMA. He insisted that the hearing was not set up to consider a constitutional amendment. But Democrats said that such an amendment is the ultimate goal of some Republicans. Though no amendment has been proposed in the Senate, such a measure has been introduced in the House.
Amendment supporters said at the hearing that a constitutional change is needed to protect children and to help stem the disintegration of the family. Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, testified that marriage is a key social institution for the protection of children. Other witnesses said it is only a matter of time before the traditional marriage definition is challenged, particularly as states pass laws recognizing gay marriages. The Supreme Court recently struck down a Texas law that made gay sex a crime, overturning an earlier ruling that said states could punish gay men and lesbians for having sex. Among the opponents of an amendment was Keith Bradkowski, the partner of Jeff Collman, an American Airlines pilot who was on the first of the four planes hijacked by terrorists in the September 11 attack. Bradkowski said he had a committed relationship with Collman though they were never legally able to marry. He described the difficulties he encountered in proving his relationship with Collman after his death, such as when he tried to obtain a death certificate. He said the definition of marriage should be left to the states. "Jeff and I only sought to love and take care of each other," he told the committee. "I do not understand why that is a threat to some people."