State representatives, concerned that court rulings in other states could lead to same-sex marriages in Oklahoma, asked Congress on Monday to get involved and pass a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Without opposition, members of the house judiciary committee passed a resolution by Rep. Rebecca Hamilton (D-Oklahoma City) that calls on Congress to hold hearings on the impact of a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, Keith Smith, called the resolution "a horrendous concept.... That's one of the worst things they can do. It's already illegal in Oklahoma. The U.S. Constitution affects all 50 states."
The measure, which now goes to the full house for action, is among the first in the nation seeking congressional action following a ruling last week by the Massachusetts supreme judicial court that said gay and lesbian couples are entitled to nothing less than marriage. Oklahoma law already denies recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. But lawmakers are concerned that fallout from rulings elsewhere could spill over into Oklahoma, and they believe more needs to be done to "protect the sanctity of marriage." Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman), author of a similar resolution, said it is important that Congress take action. The court rulings have left states divided over what the institution of marriage should mean, he maintains. "It's a federal issue," said Balkman, noting that congressional action would supersede any authority granted by individual states. "I think it's the only sure way that we protect marriage in Oklahoma," Balkman said.
The congressional measure, House Joint Resolution 56 by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), states that "marriage shall consist of a union of a man and woman." Hamilton said her resolution tracks language recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other groups that support traditional marriage. Oklahoma Republican legislative leaders have accused Democrats of setting the state up for a court ruling permitting gay marriages. Oklahoma senate minority leader James A. Williamson (R-Tulsa) has said an "activist" state judge could always overturn the law. He said constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage should be passed at both the state and federal levels. A resolution by Rep. Mike O'Neal (R-Enid) would place the matter of gay marriage before a vote of the people. Williamson has filed a similar measure calling for a state constitutional amendment declaring marriage as the union between a man and a woman.