- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The House yesterday began the first in a series of hearings to assess the need for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage,” with some analysts testifying that current law is sufficient to protect traditional marriage.

“Changing the Constitution is just unnecessary,” former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, told members of the House Judiciary Constitution subcommittee. “We have a perfectly good law on the books that defends marriage on the federal level and protects states from having to dilute their definitions of marriage by recognizing other states’ same-sex marriage licenses.”

That law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was crafted by Mr. Barr, approved by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996.

“There is no reason to push a very divisive issue on the country when the states have the tools now to resolve this issue themselves,” said John Hanes, the Republican chairman of Wyoming’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Barr and other witnesses said DOMA is constitutional and likely will withstand any judicial efforts to overturn it.

Still, many lawmakers worry the law won’t withstand court challenges they say are inevitable after Massachusetts starts issuing same-sex “marriage” licenses this spring, same-sex couples “marry,” return to their home states and sue to have their “marriages” recognized.

Vincent P. McCarthy, director of the northeast office of the American Center for Law and Justice, testified that those fears may be warranted. He said although DOMA is constitutional, “it’s always possible that a judge will come up with a decision that doesn’t make sense.”

He called a federal marriage amendment “a welcome resolution to the problem.”

“The witnesses thus far are indicating they believe DOMA is constitutional,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and subcommittee chairman, adding that he hasn’t concluded that a constitutional amendment is necessary.

Senate Republican leaders are advocating an amendment approach. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Constitution subcommittee, wants his panel to vote on an amendment soon.

House Republican leaders are moving more cautiously on the issue.

“[House] leadership is still saying that they want to do this slowly,” said one House Republican aide.

The aide said House Republican leaders are unsure of how the homosexual “marriage” issue will fit into their overall election year message and want to make sure the public will react favorably if the House votes to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I think that’s part of the reluctance on the House side,” the aide said.

Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and strong supporter of the marriage amendment, said he was told by House leaders that “they want to grow the vote for a while” and would like those who want an amendment to educate other members and the public about the need for one.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, is a sponsor of the main proposal, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman, meaning states and courts couldn’t say otherwise. Some say the ban should apply to civil unions as well, while others advocate an amendment leaving the marriage issue to the states.

“We want to make sure we have a unified position,” said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said that a constitutional amendment will come to the floor “when it’s ripe,” and that Judiciary Committee leaders are “taking a very methodical approach to the issue, understanding that we want to protect marriage in this country, and we will protect marriage in this country.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.

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