Proposed constitutional amendment would limit marriage

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com May 28 2003 11:00 PM ET

Gay rights activists are denouncing the reintroduction of a proposed constitutional amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21. The Federal Marriage Amendment, which was introduced in the House last year in a similar form but didn't receive any action and subsequently died, would permanently deny marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide. It would also circumvent state and federal courts from hearing cases on marital benefit issues. Two states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, are currently reviewing landmark same-sex marriage cases. "The U.S. Constitution is a document designed to protect the basic equality and civil rights of all Americans," said HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch. "Using the Constitution to deny rights to same-sex couples flies in the face of everything that makes this country great."

The amendment reads, "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, nor state or federal
law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

According to HRC, passing a constitutional amendment is, by design, a complicated and highly difficult process. After being introduced as a joint resolution in the House and Senate, the amendment must pass both houses by a two-thirds vote. It must then be ratified by three quarters of the states. The Federal Marriage Amendment is sponsored by Republican representatives Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, and David Vitter of Louisiana and Democratic representatives Ralph M. Hall of Texas, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. Several of these members cosponsored the bill last year. There is no Senate companion measure.

Said Birch: "This amendment, and the small handful of people supporting it, not only faces strong opposition in the hearts and minds of most Americans but also has to overcome significant built-in constitutional hurdles. Ultimately, this amendment will most likely equate to little more than a mean-spirited sideshow."