Romney testifies at Senate hearing on Federal Marriage Amendment

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June 22 2004 11:00 PM ET

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, whose state is the only one in which same-sex marriages can be performed, traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and urged passage of a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Romney testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Preserving Traditional Marriage: A View From the States." The Senate is preparing to vote on the marriage ban next month--just two weeks before the Democratic National Convention takes place in Boston. The move is seen as an attempt to put pressure on Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator who opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions.

Backers of the constitutional ban, including President Bush, have predicted that gay marriages will spread like a "wildfire" across the country, eroding traditional marriage and voiding more restrictive laws in other states. "It is not possible for the issue to remain solely a Massachusetts issue; it must now be confronted on a national basis," Romney said. But in a preview of what is certain to be a politically charged debate, former U.S. representative Bob Barr (R-Ga.) told the Senate committee that the U.S. Constitution shouldn't be used as a vehicle for banning same-sex marriage. His remarks suggested that some of the strongest opposition to the proposed amendment may come from conservatives who abhor gay unions. "We meddle with the Constitution to our own peril," Barr said. "If we begin to treat the Constitution as our personal sandbox in which to build and destroy castles as we please, we risk diluting the grandeur of having a constitution in the first place." In contrast, Romney said that at the heart of democracy is the principle that the people--not the courts--should decide such fundamental issues. "The real threat to the states is not the constitutional amendment process, in which the states participate, but activist judges who disregard the law and redefine marriage in order to impose their will on the states and on the whole nation," the governor said.

Barr, author of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of gay unions, said in prepared testimony that the Defense of Marriage Act is sufficient to prevent recognition of same-sex marriages and noted that the law has yet to be successfully challenged. Romney conceded that while "the sky's not going to fall" if gay unions are recognized, same-sex marriage "may affect the development of children and thereby future society as a whole. Until we understand the implications for human development of a different definition of marriage, I believe we should preserve that which has endured over thousands of years."

Senate majority leader Bill Frist has said senators will begin debate July 12 on the Federal Marriage Amendment, proposed by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). That measure states that "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." 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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