As President Proclaims "Marriage Protection Week," ACLU Calls For Equal Protection for All Americans

October 9, 2003 12:00 am

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As President Proclaims “Marriage Protection Week,” ACLU Calls For Equal Protection for All Americans


WASHINGTON – Responding to the President’s proclamation of next week as “Marriage Protection Week,” which it says is a thinly veiled attempt to plug the Federal Marriage Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union today called upon President Bush and Congress to reject a constitutional change denying any legal benefits of marriage to unmarried couples and instead work toward ensuring equal legal protections for all Americans.

“The President should abide by his own proclamation, in which he called for the creation of ‘a compassionate, welcoming society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect,'” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “‘Marriage Protection Week’ is nothing but a handout to the far right seeking to unravel the already limited legal protections that gay and lesbian Americans have.”

The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment would not simply limit marriages to heterosexual couples. It would bar federal, state and local laws from requiring “that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.” Such language, the ACLU said, would undo various local and state legal protections – civil unions and domestic partner laws – that some same-sex couples currently enjoy. Examples of these rights include hospital visitation and the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner.

Notably, the amendment does not enjoy broad support among conservatives. Both House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) have spoken out against the measure and columns by former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) object to the amendment on the grounds that states should determine the definition of marriage in 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 or unions.

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.”

The ACLU also pointed to the growing public reluctance to support anti-gay initiatives like the Federal Marriage Amendment. The Senate recently re-introduced – with strong bi-partisan support – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The last time the measure was before the Senate, it failed by only one vote.

“Despite claims by some, not all conservatives support this discriminatory measure,” Anders added. “As America grows to accept families of all kinds, Congress needs to reject unfair measures that seek to unsettle our constitutional foundations and ostracize gays and lesbians.”

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