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Showdown at the Senate

Forces on both sides of the Federal Marriage Amendment debate defend stance
( [email protected] ) Jul 14, 2004 12:36 PM EDT

With the vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment due today, Senators and advocates on both sides of the debate have pushed full force on Tuesday, July 13, 2004.

Pro-family groups have heeded the advice of Focus on the Family president James Dobson in calling their senator’s offices “until the switchboard smokes,” flooding senate offices nationwide.

According to the Washington Post, Senate offices were “deluged with phone calls and e-mails prompted by heavy grass-roots mobilizations over the weekend, topped off by two appeals for passage by President Bush."

Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council, encouraged Christians to continue their calls.

"[I]t is imperative that you once again contact your senators and tell them to protect marriage when they vote on Wednesday," Perkins said. "Don't accept excuses from your senators' staff. Additionally, don't be alarmed if you are transferred into a voicemail box or get a busy signal. We're shutting down the phones on Capitol Hill, and that's a good thing. Just hang up and call back until you get someone on the phone."

The opposing side protested in front of the John C. Kluczynski federal building in Chicago, July 12, 2004 for “equal rights” to marriage. The loud pro-gay protestors called for “equal marriage now” calling gay “marriage” a “civil right.”

Meanwhile, at the Senate, some twenty-two senators gave speeches about the Federal Marriage Amendment – 14 of whom were Republicans. The Amendment, backed by President George W. Bush and millions of evangelical Christians, would be the only legislation that the courts cannot overturn. The Amendment specifically reads that marriage “shall consist only of a man and a woman” and that neither the federal nor any state constitution “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.”

Political observers, including conservatives, doubt the amendment would pass at first vote on Wednesday.

Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee – one of the amendment’s most avid supporters – said on Tuesday, “This issue is not going away… will it be back? Absolutely, yes.”

Nevertheless, pro-family senators, most of who were republican, listed the well-being of children, the desire to prevent unelected judges from amending the constitution from the bench and the protection of marriage itself as the reasons for supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment.

"There is a master plan out there from those who want to destroy the institution of marriage to, first of all, begin to take this issue in a few select courts throughout this country at the state level," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo. Pointing to rulings in Vermont and Massachusetts, he said that "once they get their favorable rulings from activist judges ... they want to take it to the federal courts and they'll eventually move it to the Supreme Court."

The senators who stood on the opposing side argued that the Amendment would not be helpful to marriage, and charged their opponents of “politicizing” the issue.

For the Amendment to pass, it would need the support of two thirds of the members of both houses of Congress. In addition, three-fourths of the state legislatures must support the amendment in order for it to be completely ratified.

The following is the full account of Tuesday’s debate, as reported by the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention’s newsletter Baptist Press:

-- Wayne Allard, R.-Colo. (for the amendment).

Allard answered those who argue the amendment debate is a waste of time, saying, "They don't think it's a waste of time to raise taxes."

Allard said the amendment has three main goals: to define marriage, tie the hands of the courts and give to Americans the opportunity to debate the issue.

Supporters of same-sex "marriage," he argued, want the issue left up to the courts. Those supporters, he said, have a "master plan" to "destroy the institution of marriage" by taking the issue to a "few select courts" and get favorable rulings. He pointed to Vermont and Massachusetts, where courts rulings in those states led to the legalization of civil unions and same-sex "marriage," respectively.

Once those rulings are issued, Allard said, activists then sue elsewhere to get the rulings recognized nationwide.

He said he has been "disappointed" that Democrats have not debated the issue on the merits and have not debated the actual meaning of marriage.

-- Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif. (against the amendment).

"I think I can talk about marriage and the things we need to do to strengthen marriage," Boxer said. "Unfortunately, there's not one thing that's on the table here that does that -- that strengthens marriage."

Boxer said the amendment is "unnecessary" and discriminatory.

"We are enshrining discrimination into the Constitution -- a document that's meant to expand rights," she said. "We have ... never amended the Constitution to deny rights and deny equality."

Boxer noted that Vice President Cheney's wife recently came out against the Federal marriage Amendment.

"When I say it's divisive to the country, it has divided Mrs. Cheney from Dick Cheney, and that's just an example of how it divides people," she said.

Boxer quoted conservatives, such as George Will and Bob Barr, who oppose the marriage amendment.

"This is not a question of Republicans versus Democrats," she said.

She said she "strongly" supports Vermont-type civil unions and believes the Allard-sponsored Federal Marriage Amendment will "deny ... millions of Americans equal rights"

Senators, she said, should be debating other issues, such as the war on terror and "fixing our intelligence."

The Senate, she added, is more worried about "two people of the same gender caring about each other, wanting to visit each other in the hospital" than they are about "unbelievable threats" of terrorism.

-- Jim Talent, R.-Mo. (for the amendment).

Talent lamented the fact that the amendment likely will be filibustered.

"It is a shame, because this is an important measure and the people are entitled to see who in this body is for protecting traditional marriage and who isn't, because nothing less than that is at stake," he said.

The courts, Talent said, are "engaged in a process by which they are going to force the people of this country -- whether they like it or not -- to accept a fundamental change in the basic building block of our society."

Talent then sarcastically said, "I kind of think that's important.... I think it's worth debating."

Marriage, Talent said, is more than an expression of love between two people.

"[It's] also the institution that we in our society rely upon for raising our children. And it's best for kids -- if possible and where possible -- to have a mom and a dad. And that's one thing that two people of the same sex cannot give children. They cannot give them a mom and a dad."

Responding to those who say the amendment debate is political, Talent said the courts should be blamed.

"This battle is being forced upon us by the courts of the country, and if [senators] don't want to vote on this, [then] get the Massachusetts Supreme Court to reverse itself," he said.

Talent also criticized those who said the issue is only political.

"What they are really saying is 'We know if we have to vote on this we're going to vote in a way that people probably don't like back home," he said.

-- Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas (for the amendment).

"I don't think that the Constitution should be amended lightly," she said. "I would like to see our Constitution only amended when it is absolutely necessary to correct a problem in our country. However, this is one of those times."

Judges, Hutchison said, are "acting as legislators" and "must be stopped."

"I don't think that we will have the votes on Wednesday to proceed to this critical issue," she said. "But this is an important step to start the debate. And, eventually, we are going to have to take some action...."

-- Russell Feingold, D.-Wis. (against the amendment).

Feingold said the debate is about Republicans "scoring points in an election year."

"This proposed constitutional amendment is a poorly disguised diversionary tactic [and] is essentially a political stunt."

Senators, Feingold said, should be debating other issues.

"Instead of Congress and the president getting to work on issues that really would help American families, we are spending time ... on a poorly thought out, divisive and politically motivated constitutional amendment that everyone knows has no chance of success in this chamber," Feingold said.

Feingold said the amendment would infringe on states rights.

"It would limit the ability of states to make their own judgments on how to best define and recognize marriage or any legally sanctioned unions," he said.

-- John Cornyn, R.-Texas (for the amendment).

Following comments by Democratic Sens. Boxer and Feingold, Cornyn said he was "delighted" that the Senate was having a "real debate" on the merits of the marriage amendment.

Cornyn said same-sex couples from 46 states have acquired marriage licenses and some of them have sued in their home states "seeking to force legal recognition" of the licenses.

"This is not an isolated event," Cornyn said. "This is part of a long-term litigation strategy."

Countering those who assert the issue is politically driven, Cornyn said, "This is not some political issue that we -- or the leadership on this side of the aisle -- has dreamed up. This is a debate that's been raging for some time now."

-- James Inhofe, R.-Okla. (for the amendment)

Countering those who say marriage is a states right issue, Inhofe pointed to 19th-century history, when states were not allowed into the Union unless they outlawed polygamy.

"This is a national issue," Inhofe said.

A national definition of marriage is necessary, Inhofe said, because same-sex couples will travel "across state lines" to acquire marriage licenses.

"As a result of this mobility, same-sex couples with marriage certificates will become entangled in the legal systems of other states they live in," he said.

Traditional marriage is the "ideal environment" for raising children, Inhofe said.

He pointed to Sweden and Norway, two countries that have a legal recognition of same-sex unions short of marriage. In both countries, he said, a majority of children are born out of wedlock.

"I don't think that our priorities are misplaced when we are concerned about following in the footsteps of countries whose out-of-wedlock births have skyrockets," he said.

Inhofe then read verses from Genesis 2 and Matthew 19.

"I find it has been serving me for a number of years, [that] when something like this comes up, to back to the law, to go back to the Scriptures," he said.

-- John Ensign, R.-Nev. (for the amendment).

Judges, Ensign said, are "writing laws" instead of "just interpreting laws."

"Judicial activists are taking away … the powers from the legislative branches across the United States," he said.

If same-sex couples can get "married," Ensign said, then so should polygamists.

"That's where we go when we start allowing the definition to go away from just a man and a woman," he said.

-- Dick Durbin, D.-Ill. (against the amendment).

Holding up a copy of the Constitution, Durbin said, "I am one who believes that when it comes to this document, we have a special responsibility -- a responsibility which require respect and humility."

Durbin said that before he supports a change to the Constitution, "I have to be absolutely sure that it is essential -- essential for this Union to continue, and essential for the rights and liberties of every American citizen."

The Senate, Durbin said, should be debating other issues.

"We've turned into not a Senate, but a constitutional convention," he said.

Durbin said that if the amendment passes it would be only the "second time in history" that an amendment would "restrict the rights of American citizens." The first, he said, was the amendment concerning prohibition.

-- Frank Lautenberg, D.-N.J. (against the amendment)

Lautenberg, critical of the Bush administration's record on the war, argued that the Senate should be debating other issues.

"What's morally correct is what the people want, and we ought to let them hear on this floor that we understand the things that concern them," he said.

Lautenberg criticized the marriage amendment -- presumably the Allard version -- for banning civil unions. He said it would create "second class" citizens.

"This amendment attempts to divide America," he said.

-- Rick Santorum, R.-Pa. (for the amendment).

Giving a passionate support of the amendment Santorum chided the other side and mocked their arguments: "If you support a mother and a father for every child, you're a hater. If you believe that men and women for 5,000 years have bonded together in marriage, you're a gay-basher. Marriage is hate. Marriage is a stain. Marriage is an evil thing -- that's what we hear."

The issue, he said, is a national one.

"What those who suggest that we leave it to the states are suggesting is [that we] leave it to the state courts," Santorum said. That's always been the secret weapon of those who want to change our culture and change our laws without going through the process …"

Responding to those who said the Senate should be debating homeland security, Santorum said, "You want to invest in homeland security? You invest in marriage. You invest in the stability of the family."

-- Barbara Mikulski, D.-Md. (against the amendment).

Mikulski said the Senate should be debating other issues, specifically homeland security. There are, she said, "far more pressing needs."

"This discussion is ill-conceived, ill-timed and unnecessary," she said.

America, Mikulski said, is "united on the war against terrorism. We should not be divided in a cultural war."

"This amendment is not about policy," Mikulski said. "It's about politics."

-- Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass. (against the amendment)

Kennedy, the only senator known to support same-sex "marriage," criticized the Republicans for pushing the issue.

"President Bush wants to persuade Congress to write bigotry back into the Constitution by denying gays and lesbians the right to marry and receive the same benefits and protections that married couples now have," Kennedy said.

The issue, Kennedy said, should be left to the states. Kennedy's home state, Massachusetts, is the only state where same-sex "marriage" is legal.

The amendment, he said, is being debated "solely for scoring points in a presidential campaign."

-- John Warner, R.-Va. (supports only the first sentence of the amendment).

Warner, who previously was listed as undecided, said he would side with Republicans to prevent a filibuster but has concerns with the current version of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Warner said he supports the first sentence of the Allard version of FMA but has concerns with the second sentence. He asked: If the amendment passes, would states be allowed to legalize civil unions within their constitution? He said he would "work with others to address" his concerns.

"I unequivocally support the first sentence," he said. "The time honored tradition between a man and a woman ought to be protected …"

-- Mark Dayton, D.-Minn. (against the amendment).

Quoting Scripture, Dayton argued that the New Testament has little to say about same-sex relationships.

"In the entire New Testament, there is only one reference to same-sex relationships -- in chapter two of Paul's letter to the Romans," Dayton said. "Jesus Christ does not mention them even once in any of the four Gospels. Instead, his overriding instruction was to love thy neighbor as thyself."

Dayton likely was referring instead to Romans 1, although Paul -- and other authors -- address homosexuality in other instances, including 1 Corinthians 6.

Earlier in the day, Sen. James Inhofe, R.-Okla., read from Matthew 19, where Jesus affirms the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The debate over the marriage amendment, Dayton said, is about saving the jobs of politicians.

"This is a hurtful, hateful, harmful debate for America -- one that will only get uglier, meaner, more divisive and more dangerous if it moves onto state legislatures as the constitutional process requires," he said. "That is why it must be stopped here and now."

-- Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah (for the amendment).

"The issue cannot remain a states rights issue because courts will not allow it," Hatch said.

Hatch said those arguing for states right actually are arguing for courts rights.

"Liberal judges can enact, from the bench, legislation … that these liberals could never get through the elected representatives of the people -- not in a million years," Hatch said. "They don't want the people to decide this. They want the courts to decide it.

America, Hatch said, is witnessing an "unprecedented usurpation" of the "people's will"

"I think gay people have a right to their lifestyle -- certainly in the privacy of their home," Hatch said. "But they do not have the right to impose that lifestyle or to impose their views on everybody in America by changing the definition of marriage."

-- Hillary Rodham Clinton, D.-N.Y. (against the amendment).

If the senators "really were concerned" about marriage, Clinton said, then they should have argued for an amendment concerning divorce years ago. Divorce, she said, "clearly" harms children "because of the ease of divorce."

"I don't for the life of me understand how amending the Constitution of the United States with respect to same-gender marriages really gets at the root of the problem of marriage in America," she said.

She said she believes the concerns of amendment supporters are "sincere" but that they have "rushed to judgment."

-- Don Nickles, R.-Okla. (for the amendment).

Pointing to court rulings, Nickles said that "marriage is under attack." He speculated that the marriage amendment may not pass until a federal court rules against traditional marriage.

"My guess is that it probably won't pass until they do overturn the Defense of Marriage Act," he said. "And then I believe there really will be a revolt around the country."

Nickles criticized some of the arguments of amendment opponents as being disingenuous.

"Several of the people who have argued against this amendment also debated and voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which was basically a states rights … solution to this," he said … "I question whether they really believe in states rights."

-- James Jeffords, I.-Vt. (against the amendment).

Jeffords criticized the Senate for spending "crucial time" on a "divisive issue." Senators should be debating a homeland security bill, Jeffords said.

"That bill languishes, while we launch into a cultural war," he said.

Jeffords' home state, Vermont, is the only state with same-sex civil unions, which give homosexuals all the state benefits that married couples have.

"I am proud of the way my state led the nation in addressing this issue four years ago," he said.

-- Sam Brownback, R.-Kan. (for the amendment).

Like some other Republicans Brownback pointed to the Netherlands, which recognizes same-sex unions and has seen its out-of-wedlock-births grow.

In the early 1980s, Brownback, said, the Netherlands began saying, "It's not that critical how marriage is organized."

In 1980 the Netherlands saw 5 percent of its births occur out of wedlock. Today, that is 30 percent, he said.

"We don't want this to happen in the United States," Brownback said.

-- John McCain, R.-Ariz. (against the amendment).

McCain said the marriage amendment "strike[s] me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans" -- mainly the belief in states rights.

Citizens who support the amendment, McCain said, would do well to try and change the minds of Americans rather than calling Senators. McCain said that by his count, there are not even 51 Senators who support the amendment.

"That won't change, unless public opinion changes significantly," McCain said.

McCain brushed aside arguments that the court ruling in Massachusetts presents a threat.

"The actions by jurists in one court in one state do not represent the death nail to marriage," McCain said. "We will have to wait a little longer to see if Armageddon has arrived."

-- Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala. (for the amendment).

Pointing to the Lawrence v. Texas decision overturning anti-sodomy laws, Sessions argued that "marriage is in jeopardy by the United State Supreme Court."

"What we are doing here is to protect [and] defend the rights of the states to adopt legislatively the position they've always adopted," he said.

Sessions said that he has received roughly 1,500 calls supporting the amendment and only 30-40 opposed.

"My phones are ringing off the hook," he said. "… I think the American people are concerned about it."