ACLU Decries New Effort to Amend the Constitution, Calls Proposed Marriage Amendment an Affront to Equality and Freedom

November 25, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following on the heels of the Massachusetts State Supreme Court’s ruling that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated due process and equal protection under the state constitution, Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment in the Senate today. The American Civil Liberties Union called the latest attempt to curtail liberties through altering the Constitution ill advised and mean spirited.

“The Constitution exists to protect rights – not diminish them,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The introduction of this Amendment shows just how far some in Congress are willing to go to deny people the right to some of life’s most basic rights. Spurned by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, now they are moving to write discrimination into the Constitution.”

The idea of amending the Constitution to define marriage is controversial: according to a recent ABC News poll, only 20 percent of Americans favor amending the Constitution to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry.

“The country has so many crucial issues facing it right now,” Anders said. “It is baffling that some in the Senate would take the time to deny those who serve in the military, keep our communities safe as firefighters and police officers, staff our hospitals, build our cities and pay taxes the right to marry simply because they are gay or lesbian.”

Liberals and conservatives alike oppose the proposed amendment. Notably, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia and former Republican Senator Al Simpson of Wyoming object to the amendment on the grounds that it is not a matter for the federal government to decide; both Barr and Simpson agree that states should be able to determine marriage rules in their own borders.

Barr was the author and primary sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage, for the purposes of federal law, as the union between a man and woman only and stipulates that no state can force another to recognize its same-sex marriages. But, as he wrote in the Washington Post, that law was drafted for purposes of federal benefits, defined “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman, and then allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. “As any good federalist should recognize,” he said, “this law leaves states the appropriate amount of wiggle room to decide their own definitions of marriage or other similar social compacts, free of federal meddling.”

Even Vice President Dick Cheney, when asked about officially recognized same-sex marriages, said in a debate during the 2000 election, “I think the fact of the matter, of course, is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate.” House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has also echoed the Vice President’s stance on the issue.

“Just as with similar attempts to legislate discrimination, the amendment chips away at our freedom and liberty, and it should be defeated,” Anders said. “Such discrimination has no place in America, and it certainly shouldn’t be enshrined by writing it into our Constitution.”

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