Frequently Asked Questions about the Federal Marriage Amendment and Gay Marriage

Document Date: February 25, 2004

Q. What does the Federal Marriage Amendment say?

A. “”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.””

Q. What does that mean?

A. The first sentence says that every state must deny same sex couples the right to marry. The second sentence goes further; it would override any existing local and state level protections and benefits for gay and lesbian couples, or any other unmarried couple, including hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, pension benefits, and health insurance among others. Rather than allow states to decide upon their own definitions of marriage or similar social compacts, the Federal Marriage Amendment would impose a single, discriminatory definition of marriage that all states would be required to follow – regardless of existing state laws.

Q. What is the difference between civil unions and marriage? If they are different in name only, why do gays and lesbians need to be “”married””?

A. While civil unions are a meaningful step toward ending discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, they fall short of true equality by setting up a separate category of rights and protections for gay and lesbian couples. Gay and lesbian Americans serve in the military, keep our communities safe as firefighters and police officers, staff our hospitals, build our cities and pay taxes. Gay and lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships should not be denied legal rights in pensions, health insurance, hospital visitations, and inheritance that other long-term committed couples enjoy. We should end this discrimination.

Q. Hasn’t marriage been traditionally defined as between a man and a woman?

A. Marriage is about commitment, love, sharing, and compromise. It is a private, personal choice that should not be denied to couples just because they are the same sex. Today we look back, almost disbelieving, on the time when many Americans did not tolerate marriage between Catholics and Protestants, between whites and blacks. Unfortunately, our laws continue to deny a basic right to marry to two adults simply because they are gay or lesbian.

Q. What about religious groups who believe homosexuality is wrong – won’t this pressure them to recognize homosexual couples or accept marriage of gay and lesbian couples?

A. No. We are not asking people to change their religious beliefs. There are many things about modern society that religious organizations disagree with, such as divorce and birth control that are now legal in this country. Civil marriage and religious marriage are different. At issue here is civil marriage – a legal institution regulated by the government that grants over 1,000 legal rights and obligations. Every year, at least 40% of heterosexual couples in the United States get married without a church, synagogue, mosque or religious ceremony. The First Amendment protects the right of people of faith to organize themselves according to their own beliefs and traditions, and no law recognizing marriage of lesbian and gay couples will limit the freedom of religions to define marriage as each sees fit.

Q. What about those people who say their religious beliefs are threatened by marriage of lesbian and gay couples?

A. We are not asking people to change their religious beliefs. Just as we did not ask them to change their religious beliefs when we legalized divorce and legalized birth control. Ending discrimination against gays and lesbians is the same thing.

Q. Don’t the majority of Americans oppose marriage of same sex couples?

A. American attitudes toward marriage are complex. Americans’ attitudes toward the rights of gays and lesbians are evolving just as attitudes on civil rights of other groups of Americans have evolved over time. Polling data shows that Americans oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Q. What’s the harm of an Amendment that defines marriage?

A. It would write discrimination into the Constitution. Moreover, it will take away legal protections for committed, long-term couples, such as hospital visitation rights, pension benefits, health insurance coverage, inheritance rights, and many others.

Q. What about the impact on children?

A. Allowing two people who are in a loving and committed long-term relationship to have legal protections will have a positive impact on the children they adopt, care for, or other children in their communities.

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