On Thursday, July 22, just one week after the Federal Marriage Amendment failed to pass the Senate, the House passed a separate legislation to prevent federal courts from ordering states to recognize same-sex “marriages” that took place in other states. Evangelical Christian and pro-family groups applauded the House decision, calling the Marriage Protection Act a useful weapon in the battle to protect marriage.
“We applaud the House for passing this bill,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Perkins listed two reasons why the vote was necessary: “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.”
“However,” said Perkins, “because it is only a statute, like the Defense of Marriage Act, this measure is vulnerable to being struck down by an activist judge. 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."
Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, agreed with Perkins, saying that the bill’s passage “furthers the momentum” of the defense of marriage movement.
"It does send a message to the judiciary that people are really getting fed up with their attempts to become our unelected rulers," said Land to the Southern Baptist’s Newsletter Baptist Press.
Land also expressed the need for a constitutional marriage amendment – the only legislation that cannot be struck down by the courts.
"[The bill] is still only a law, which is subject to judicial interpretation and could be stricken down by the courts, as opposed to a constitutional amendment, which is sovereign over the court -- not subject to the court's interpretation,” said Land.
During Thursday’s debate, republicans constantly emphasized the fact that “Marriage is under attack” from “activist judges” like the ones who single-handedly imposed gay “marriage” onto Massachusetts through their controversial November ruling. The Marriage Protection Act is necessary now more than ever, Republican Representatives explained, because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act – the only federal legislation that protects marriage at a nationwide scale - can easily be struck down by such “activist judges.”
"The court is not the only repository of wisdom nor of due process," Rep. Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., said. "Democracy requires checks and balances -- we know that. [But] what is the check and balance on the Supreme Court?"
Currently, several out-of-state homosexual couples received illegal gay “marriage” licenses in Massachusetts and have sued their own states to gain recognition for theses licenses. The Defense of Marriage Act says states are not compelled to recognize gay marriages that take place in other states, and defines marriage as between a man and a woman only. The Marriage Protection Act would protect the DOMA from being reviewed or revised by the court.
Opponents said the MPA was unconstitutional and called it “court-stripping” and predicted the bill itself will likely be challenged in the courts.
Rep. John Dingell, D.-Mich., called the bill an "extraordinary piece of arrogance." Rep. Jim McGovern, D.-Mass., called it a "mean-spirited, discriminatory and misguide distraction" and said it violated the "separation of powers."
"Under this bill, for the first time in our long history, a person could be denied access to the federal courts when that person claims that a federal statute violates the Constitution," McGovern said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D.-N.Y., who voted against the bill, said the legislation sets a bad precedent for Congress to pass similar bills whenever it dislikes a court ruling.
"[W]e are playing with fire with this bill, and that fire could destroy the nation we love," he said.
However, supporters of the Bill said the constitution gives Congress authority to regulate the courts.
The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. John Hostettler, R.-Ind., pointed to Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part: "[T]he Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make." Section 1 states that Congress "ordain[s]" and "establish[es]" the lower courts.
Hostettler also pointed to Article I, Section 8, and Article IV, Section 1.
"The United States Constitution is very clear -- Congress has the authority to create inferior federal courts," Hostettler said. "Congress [also] has the authority to make exceptions and regulations with regard to all of the appellate cases that come before the Supreme Court."
Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R.-Texas, who also supported the Bill, said the MPA is more than constitutional, and reminded the opponents that it allows room for all 50 states to independently decide how to define marriage.
"This is the position that many Democrats say that they support -- all 50 states deciding for themselves how to define marriage rather than a one-size-fits-all definition being imposed upon them from above," said. DeLay. "This bill is their opportunity to publicly adhere to that argument.
"If you support the states and respect the will of the American people, you must support this bill,” he continued.
Other supporters pointed to the bill’s allowance of checks and balances in the U.S. system.
"The question is, when the Supreme Court gets really goofy ... what is the mechanism to hold them in check?" Rep. Todd Akin, R.-Mo. asked. "... The question before us is a question of whether or not a redefinition of marriage is going to be imposed on all of our states by a few activist judges."
The bill is H.R. 3313, and it passed on a mostly party-line vote of 233-194. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 by a vote of 342-67 in the House and 85-14 in the Senate.