Frist says "activist judges," not politics, led to planned Senate vote on marriage ban

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June 22 2004 12:00 AM ET

Senate action on banning gay marriage has become a priority because judges are redefining marriage as more than just the union of a man and woman as they allow same-sex couples to marry, the Senate majority leader said Sunday. Sen. Bill Frist rejected a suggestion that he scheduled the debate in
mid July to embarrass his fellow senator, John Kerry, who a few weeks later will be nominated as the Democrats' challenger against Republican president George W. Bush in November's election. "That's the most common question: 'Why do you bring up the marriage amendment at this point in time?' And 'These are for political reasons, coming into the convention.' And the answer is, 'Absolutely, no,'" said Frist, a Republican. He noted that Kerry was among 14 senators who voted against the 1996 Defense
of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The act "said marriage is the union between a man and a woman. He voted against that act," Frist said on Fox News Sunday.

The Democrats' presidential nominating convention is in Boston the last week in July. But that is not why he decided to bring up the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment for debate on July 12, Frist said. "I bring it up because right now [in] a court in Massachusetts, May 17, activist judges have come forward and said: 'We're going to redefine marriage. It's no longer going to be between a man and a woman,"' Frist said. "In response to the activist judges there, and these marriages that are occurring around the country, it is incumbent for the people to speak" through their senators. He said the purpose of the proposed amendment, which he endorsed a year ago, "is to protect marriage for what it's been in this country for hundreds of years." The amendment, proposed by Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican, says "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, 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 a woman."

Frist also denied that he announced the July debate on Friday, more than a month in advance, to make it impossible for Kerry to invoke prior commitments to skip the exercise. It was the Senate's tight schedule, Frist said. "It is because I only have 42 legislative days left, and I've got about 17 different bills to pass. Therefore I need to plan out my 42 days," Frist said. He said he wants a spirited national debate on the amendment proposal. "As elected representatives," Frist said, "I think it is our responsibility to use that great democratic process to discuss, Is marriage a union between a
man and a woman, or is it not?" Amendments to the U.S. Constitution require approval by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and ratification by three fourths of state legislatures.

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