The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Thursday to prevent federal courts from ordering states to recognize gay marriages sanctioned by other states. The Marriage Protection Act passed on a 233-194 vote, buoyed by backing from the Bush administration. Last week the Senate dealt opponents of same-sex marriage a setback by failing to advance a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex unions. Federal judges, who are unelected and given lifetime appointments, "must not be allowed to rewrite marriage policy for the states," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.).
Democrats said the bill, authored by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), was an election-year distraction, calling it an unconstitutional attack on gays in America and the federal judiciary. They said it would set a precedent that Congress could use to shield any future legislation from federal judicial review.
"They couldn't amend the Constitution last week, so they're trying to desecrate and circumvent the Constitution this week," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). The legislation faces long odds in the closely divided Senate, but were it to become law, gay and lesbian couples seeking to have their marriages recognized could seek help only from state courts. The legislation would strip the Supreme Court and other federal courts of their jurisdiction to rule on challenges to state bans on gay marriages under a provision of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. That law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, adding that states are not compelled to recognize same-sex marriages that take place in other states.
"Today the House of Representatives voted to ignore our Constitution and our centuries-old system of government," read a statement from the gay rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "In attacking both gay people and the historic role of the courts, this bill clearly violates our Constitution and will never be allowed to stand. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that laws cannot single out gay people and treat us as second-class citizens, which is exactly what this bill tries to do. If this bill ever passes both houses of Congress and is signed into law, we'll make sure that it takes its proper place alongside other discriminatory laws that have been struck down as unconstitutional. The bill that passed in the House today will end up in the dustbin of other attempts to treat gay people as second-class citizens, which future generations will look back at with curiosity and embarrassment."