- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Senate Republicans said they will try to pass a constitutional amendment codifying marriage as between a man and a woman this year, but House Republicans were less confident about their chances.

Passing an amendment through both chambers, which requires two-thirds approval, will be very difficult, Republican leaders said — partly because those who want an amendment passed disagree about what it should say.

“The groups that are for a constitutional amendment are split over what it should be,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “We’re trying to bring them all together and unify them — that’s going to take some time.”

But he said the Republican-led Congress will “do anything and everything available to us to protect marriage.”

And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said if Congress can pass an amendment, he thinks it would be ratified within a year by the 38 state legislatures necessary to meet the three-fourths requirement.

He said 39 states already have laws on the books codifying marriage as between a man and a woman.

The Senate already is moving forward. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced yesterday that he will hold a hearing on the pressing national nature of the issue next week and could have a work session to begin writing an amendment a week later.

Senate Republicans were optimistic about having a full Senate vote on an amendment sometime this year, with Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, saying it could come as early as April.

President Bush yesterday called for Congress to pass an amendment, in part to make sure other states and localities wouldn’t have to recognize same-sex couples who “marry” in a jurisdiction such as San Francisco, where officials have been defying state law by issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

Mr. Bush backed the principles of the Federal Marriage Amendment, sponsored by Colorado Republicans Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Sen. Wayne Allard, although he didn’t specifically endorse their legislation.

Their amendment defines marriage in the United States as “only of the union of a man and a woman.” It then goes on to say that states shall not be required “that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

It’s that second part that’s causing problems, lawmakers said. Some think it goes too far in allowing civil unions, and some think it doesn’t go far enough. In either event, there is no consensus on how far Congress wants to go.

Some Republicans and many Democrats oppose any attempt to amend the Constitution, including key committee leaders.

“I’m not supportive of amending the Constitution on this issue,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee. “I believe that this should go through the courts, and I think that we’re at a point where it’s not necessary.”

Democrats don’t have a specific strategy for how to handle a constitutional amendment, said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

He said most House Democrats voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton, which codified the definition of marriage in federal law. That, he said, means they already are on record supporting marriage as between a man and a woman.

Some Democrats went further, with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, calling the amendment a “shameful effort to write discrimination back into the Constitution.”

“It’s about politics — an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We have rejected that tactic before, and I hope we will do so again.”

Republican and Democratic leaders said they do not have a head count for which members support an amendment.

But Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes any amendment as discriminatory, said the support simply isn’t there right now to pass an amendment like the president called for.

“If the vote were taken today, there’s clearly nowhere near the two-thirds majority in the House and Senate,” he said, adding that there might not even be a simple majority in the Senate. “In some ways, the president today kind of tossed a political grenade into the Congress, and left members of Congress to deal with the fallout.”

Lawmakers are considering other approaches. One compromise that wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment would be to pass a law restricting courts’ ability to rule on cases dealing with the definition of marriage. That law, though, could be struck down by a court.

Another option is to pass an amendment that simply carves marriage out of the “Full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution. That would allow states to pass whatever they like, including homosexual “marriage,” but wouldn’t oblige other states to recognize them.

“We’ll eventually have something and be able to pass it. It’s just that people want to get the strongest possible language,” said Stuart Roy, spokesman for Mr. DeLay.

• Amy Fagan and Brian DeBose contributed to this story.

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