Marriage Protection Act Wins House

( [email protected] ) Jul 22, 2004 11:25 PM EDT

Today, the House voted to pass the Marriage Protection Act (MPA), which protects against the revision of a state law that prevents federal courts from ordering states to recognize same-sex “marriages” legalized in other states.

The MPA, backed by the Bush administration, won by a simple Republican-led majority vote, 233-194, stripping the Supreme Court or any federal court jurisdiction to rule on challenges to any state same-sex “marriage” bans under a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, passed in 1996, defines marriage as between one man and one woman and says that states cannot be forced to accept same-sex “marriages” sanctioned in other states.

Although Massachusetts is the only state that has legalized same-sex “marriages,” the effects have been widespread. Several other states have followed suit to demand their courts to allow same-sex “marriages.” One same-sex couple, possessing a Massachusetts-sanctioned marriage license, has already filed a lawsuit asking the state of Florida to recognize their marriage.

"Marriage is under attack," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) referring to the Massachusetts’ legalization of same-sex “marriages.” The legislation is needed to prevent Massachusetts law from being applied nationwide, Sensenbrenner added.

Federal judges, unelected and given lifetime appointments, "must not be allowed to rewrite marriage policy for the states," Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) said near the opening of Thursday’s debate.

Last week, the Senate declined to vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, championed by religious conservatives and pro-family groups to protect traditional marriage from being redefined by courts, thereby banning same-sex “marriages.” However, the MPA victory has given encouragement to pro-family groups and supporters of traditional marriage who believe the results will play a role in the elections this Fall.

"Today's vote was necessary for two reasons,” said Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council, a leader in the same-sex “marriage” debate. “Firstly, Congress is well within its authority to limit the ability of activist judges at the federal level to redefine marriage out of existence. Secondly, this vote will serve as a gauge for voters to see whether their Members of Congress truly believe that marriage should remain an institution reserved for one man and one woman.”

“The House has done its part today to build a wall of defense around the institution of marriage,” said Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations for the largest nation's largest public policy women's organization, Concerned Women for America.

Now we need the Senate to act quickly to pass this legislation, he said.

If the bill (H.R. 3313) is able to garner two-thirds majority in a closely divided Senate to pass, same-sex couples seeking to have their “marriages” recognized could only go to state courts as opposed to federal courts.

Democrats said the bill was an election-year distraction, calling it an unconstitutional although legal scholars said the constitutional issue is unresolved. Democrats and some Republicans also said it would set a precedent that Congress could use to shield any future legislation from federal judicial review.

Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), the bill's author, explained how the bill can protect the majority will from being ignored by federal judges.

"As few as five people in black robes can look at a particular issue and determine for the rest of us, insinuate for the rest of us that they are speaking as the majority will. They are not," Hostettler said.

Despite the uananimous House support for MPA, pro-family groups still place their ultimate hopes in a consitutional amendment to secure traditional marriage.

"This measure is vulnerable to being struck down by an activist judge,” said Perkins. “For that reason, we will continue to push for both the House and Senate to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting marriage. Only then will the hands of activist judges at all levels be tied."

Congress leaves town at the end of the week for both parties' political conventions and a month-long recess.