Tennessee congressman joins growing call for marriage amendment
October 21 2003 11:00 PM ET
Calling homosexuality a "sin" and a "sickness," U.S. representative Zach Wamp of Tennessee said gay marriage must be constitutionally banned because the U.S. Supreme Court could decide to legalize such unions. The Chattanooga Republican is among 96 House members who have signed on to a resolution that would recognize marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, even though 1996's federal Defense of Marriage Act does this already. Another Tennessee congressman, Democrat Lincoln Davis of Pall Mall, also supports the measure. Wamp, a born-again Christian who is considering a 2006 race for the U.S. Senate, says his "view of what policy should be is based on the biblical values from the Old Testament forward." The Bible is "riddled with examples of how homosexual behavior is not just a sin" but "an aberration," he said. "That it is so unnatural and that it is a sickness in the sense that it's a sin and needs to be dealt with and people need to change their behavior and change their ways."
Proponents say the push for a constitutional ban comes after the Supreme Court in June struck down a Texas law that allowed police to arrest gays for oral or anal sex, conduct that would be legal for heterosexuals. That ruling also invalidated laws in other states that criminalize such private sexual conduct either for same-sex couples only or for all citizens. Supporters of the ban worry that the high court's ruling could be a precursor to the justices' considering same-sex marriage issues. "The time for action is now," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "The Federal Marriage Amendment is needed, not to carve out new rights but to codify a tradition that is as old as civilization."
But Winnie Stachelberg of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay advocacy group, called the legislation an "attack being pushed by extreme right-wing groups on gay and lesbian families at a time when I think this country has serious challenges to face." Wamp's remarks about homosexuality also drew fire from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I will say also that members of government and legislatures have no place whatsoever in proclaiming that something is an illness, an aberration, or anything else," said Task Force spokeswoman Roberta Sklar. "And that kind of divisive language, filled with hate and prejudice, is in no way in the best interests of our country."
To make such a ban part of the U.S. Constitution, the proposed amendment would have to be approved by two thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate as well as a majority in three quarters of the states' legislatures.