Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Just weeks before the general election, House members will vote today on a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage — a move critics say is purely political and supporters say is critically needed to defend marriage from court attack.

“For too long, Congress has stood idly by … and the time has come for Congress to reassert itself,” Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate that this step is being forced on us by the courts, but that is exactly what is happening. … The only way to protect marriage is with a constitutional amendment.”

Mr. DeLay and other supporters say the measure — which would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, banning same-sex “marriage” — likely will fall short of the two-thirds support needed to pass, but the vote will put House members on the record and raise public awareness of the issue.

“This week the House will begin the process to protect marriage in America,” Mr. DeLay said. “The American people … need to know where their representatives stand.”

Critics say the proposed federal marriage amendment is designed to be used against Democrats who oppose it and to rally the religious right.

“It is political posturing,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat.

“This amendment has zero chance of passage,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “Even if it did, it wouldn’t pass in the Senate. It is another waste of time while the budget is not attended to … the highway bill is not attended to, the energy bill is not attended to.”

“Attempts to divide and distract will backfire,” Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said at a press conference Tuesday that featured voters who are angry at Republicans for pushing the amendment.

Mr. DeLay said the debate will play a role in the Nov. 2 elections, but House consideration of the amendment is not politically motivated.

Citing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision legalizing same-sex “marriage” in that state, he said it is only a matter of time before legalization will be forced on other states. Mr. DeLay noted that 11 states are facing court challenges to their traditional marriage laws.

The proposed marriage amendment has a coalition of supporters, including religious leaders from the black and Hispanic communities.

The Senate considered the amendment in July but fell far short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and force a final vote.

Democrats who oppose the amendment are worried that they will be portrayed as anti-marriage just a few weeks before their constituents go to the ballot box.

The vote also will be tough for Republicans in close races.

Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican facing a re-election challenge, plans to vote against the measure. He feels it unnecessary to amend the Constitution to protect marriage but says his district is closely divided on the issue.

“I don’t win votes either way on this issue,” he said. “I just find it hard to understand why we are doing this so late [in the year]. It seems so political to me, and so divisive.”

Mr. DeLay hopes today’s debate will convince conservatives who oppose the idea of a constitutional amendment “that we have no other choice.”

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal this week arguing that the proposed amendment threatens to take all marriage-related decisions from the states and transfer control to the federal government.

He fears federal authority could extend to adoption, alimony, child custody, divorce, estate planning and a host of other marriage-related issues.

“For Republicans, who believe in federalism, the [amendment] is an uncomfortable fit,” he wrote. “Republicans have not shied from even the unpopular exercise of federal power over the states when it has been warranted. … But when it is not warranted, neither should we succumb to the temptation to federalize what the states have handled well for centuries.”

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