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MAY 26, 2006 5
Amendment fight gets contentious on Hill
Some predict changes
to wording to entice
By JOSHUA LYNSEN
As a Senate vote nears on a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, some political observers are speculating that the wording of the amendment
might be shortened in a last-ditch effort to
draw support from moderate senators.
As approved May 18 by the U.S. Senate
Judiciary Committee, the proposed constitutional amendment bans gay marriage
and any equivalent, which presumably
includes civil unions and perhaps some
domestic partnerships and other forms of
legal recognition for gay couples.
"Marriage in the United States shall
consist only of the union of a man and a
woman," the proposed amendment reads.
"Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state or federal law, shall be
construed to require that marital status of
the legal incidents thereof be conferred
upon unmarried couples or groups."
But there's new talk on Capitol Hill of
removing the second sentence before senators vote on the amendment next month.
The rewrite, apparently sought by some
conservatives, would have lasting and
unpredictable repercussions because of its
vague wording, gay rights activists said.
The revision also is seen by some as an
effort to woo moderate senators.
Human Rights Campaign spokesperson
Jay Smith Brown said more senators
would likely support the revised, one-sentence amendment. He noted, however, that
HRC remains "cautiously optimistic" the
Marriage Protection Amendment will fail
regardless of tin* wording.
"I think a lot of senators will see
through this attempt." Smith Brown said.
"It's still discrimination, and it's still putting that stain on the Constitution."
Changes to the federal marriage amendment were previously discussed and dis-
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missed. Smith Brown said, but cited "sources
on the Hill" for the possibility that dropping
the second sentence might be offered up again
on the Senate floor next month.
Patrick Guerriero, president of the Log
Cabin Republicans, discounted the rewrite
as a last-ditch attempt to win votes.
"Basically it's a sign of desperation
because they're about to lose again," he said.
"That's the piece I think is pretty clear here."
But Christopher Anders, legislative counsel
for the American Civil Liberties Union office
in Washington, D.C, said any abbreviation
might not be intended to draw new support
"The motivation doesn't seem to be to
pick up votes," he said. "The motivation
seems to be there's an Internal fight among
religious right groups on how much dam
age they want to cause same-sex couples
and their children."
As the Senate vote nears, Anders said he
is skeptical that anyone would seek to
revise the proposed amendment. The contentious Senate Judiciary Committee vote,
10-8, followed party lines.
"There might be one or two votes in the
Senate that are in play one way or the
other," he said. "But, literally, the civil
rights and religious coalitions have met
with almost all the Senate offices at this
point. The conclusion is the votes are basically where they were two years ago."
Debate grows tense
Although no senator has yet proposed
changing the wording, discussion of the
amendment is becoming ever more tense.
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote May
18 was marked by a heated exchange between
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Russ Feingold (D-
Wis.), a presumed presidential candidate who
recently announced his support for equal marriage rights for gay couples.
Specter and Feingold argued during the
committee meeting. Feingold eventually
walked out, and Specter wished him "good
"I don't need to be lectured by you. You
are no more a protector of the Constitution
than am I," Specter shouted after Feingold
said he opposed the amendment and treasured the Constitution.
Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold says debate over the
federal marriage amendment needs to be conducted
in a transparent way and in front of cameras.
(Photo by Mickey Welsh/AP)
"If you want to leave, good riddance.''
"I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr.
Chairman. See ya," Feingold responded
before leaving the meeting.
Feingold later issued a statement condemning Specter's decision to hold the
May 18 meeting in a small committee room
where public access is limited.
"[S]uch a measure should be considered
by the Judiciary Committee in the light of
day, open to the press and the public, with
cameras present so that the whole country
can see what is done," Feingold said. "I will
continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor."
for our culture'
Experts and politicians agree that
attempts to rewrite or abbreviate the proposed amendment would have little effect
on the vote.
Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
told the Voice this week that reducing the
amendment to one sentence would "change
no minds and very few votes."
Frank, who is gay, said President Bush
and other Republicans are using the amend
ment to divert congressional attention from
more serious issues, such as preparing for
the hurricane season that begins June 1, or
addressing economic issues.
"We screwed up Katrina, wages aren't
going up, but how about those fags getting
married?" he said. "This isn't about making public policy. They're trying to divert
attention by gay bashing."
The amendments' backers dispute that
charge, saying Senate Republicans are
responding to a constituency that helped
the party keep control of Congress and the
White House two years ago.
Barrett Duke, spokesperson for the
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission,
told the Baptist Press that gay marriage
must be stopped.
"We just don't see anything in American
life at this point that has greater implications for our culture than the same-sex marriage issue," he said.
"Just about every area of life will be
impacted if same-sex marriage becomes the
law of the land."
Previously called the Federal Marriage
Amendment, a Senate vote on the proposal
in 2004 failed with 48 voting in favor and 50
Also at that time, the House voted 227-
186 in favor of the proposal. The measure
needed 29 more votes in the House and 19
more votes in the Senate to reach the two-
thirds majority required to pass a constitutional amendment.
Political observers have forecasted this
year's Senate vote at 52-48 in favor of the
measure, mostly due to Democratic seats
won by the GOP in the 2004 election.
Such a vote still would fall 17 votes shy
of the necessary two-thirds majority.
Anders said most senators are steadfast
in their support or opposition, and rewriting the amendment would do little to
change any votes.
"The bottom line for most of the senators and most of the people who have
looked at the amendment," he said, "is that
whichever version comes to the floor, the
problems are the same."
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