Family Research Council News Conference Highlights Split on Right Over Constitutional Amendment Barring Rights For Unmarried Couples

October 2, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Pointing to recent conservative critiques of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would bar unmarried couples from enjoying any of the legal benefits of marriage, the American Civil Liberties Union said that today’s news conference hosted by the hard-right Family Research Council in support of the amendment suggests a growing split in conservative circles over the controversial provision.

“A fault line is developing over this proposed constitutional amendment between the states’ rights wing of the Republican Party and those who seek to legislate discrimination through any means possible,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It will be very interesting to see what this new dynamic means for the amendment’s prospects on Capitol Hill.”

Over the past several months, several editorials and op-eds opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment from a conservative standpoint have started running in leading newspapers. Columns from former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia and former Republican Senator Al Simpson of Wyoming object to the constitutional change on the grounds that states should be able to determine what does or does not qualify as marriage within their borders.

Interestingly, 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, his legislation for purposes of federal benefits, defines “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.”

Barr’s fellow Republican, veteran Wyoming lawmaker Simpson, also wrote, “In our system of government, laws affecting family life are under the jurisdiction of the states, not the federal government. This is as it should be. After all, Republicans have always believed that government actions that affect someone’s personal life, property and liberty – including, if not especially, marriage – should be made at the level of government closest to the people.”

Even Vice President Dick Cheney, when asked about officially recognized same-sex marriage, 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.

“Today’s news conference is the latest attempt to produce support for an amendment that has taken an increasingly strong battering in right wing circles,” Anders said. “Its supporters are finding increasing hostility to the idea of amending the nation’s founding charter and are doing everything they can to minimize the split among their traditional allies.”

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