Sunday, May 25, 2003

A bill to change the U.S. Constitution to clarify that marriage is the union of one man and one woman has been reintroduced in Congress recently.

Meanwhile, advocates on both sides of the homosexual “marriage” issue are closely watching key court cases in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

The Federal Marriage Amendment, introduced May 21, is sponsored by Republican Reps. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Jo Ann Davis of Virginia and David Vitter of Louisiana, and Democratic Reps. Ralph M. Hall of Texas, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. Several of these members co-sponsored the bill last year.

“Marriage and family are the most important institutions in existence. Unfortunately, they have come under attack,” said Mrs. Musgrave. “The traditional values Americans hold are being traded in for counterfeit marital unions. It is important to secure this institution and protect it from distortion.”

Besides defining marriage, the Federal Marriage Amendment clarifies that state legislatures, not courts, decide issues concerning public marital benefits.

Members of the Alliance for Marriage, which is promoting the amendment, say it is needed to block constitutional challenges of all of U.S. marriage laws, which are likely should any state legalize homosexual “marriage.”

A Massachusetts lawsuit, Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is closely watched because of its potential to legalize homosexual “marriage” in that state this summer.

That state’s Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on March 4 in the case, brought by seven homosexual couples denied state marriage licenses. The couples sued the state, saying it violated their rights to marry under the state constitution.

“These couples, like thousands of others in every community throughout the state, are bound by a profound love and commitment. Even though they have the same needs and concerns as other families, they shoulder added burdens simply because they cannot marry,” said Mary L. Bonauto, an attorney for the plaintiffs. She is with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston.

“Equal marriage rights would strengthen these families and the communities of which they are an integral part,” said Miss Bonauto.

Massachusetts, represented by its attorney general’s office, has argued that there isn’t a right to homosexual “marriage” in the state constitution and that decisions on marriage laws should be left to the state legislature.

The Massachusetts high court is expected to hand down its decision within 130 days of the March hearing, or by mid-July. It cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A case similar to Goodridge is also moving in New Jersey.

In Lewis v. Harris, seven homosexual couples have sued the state for denying them marriage licenses. The case is now before New Jersey Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg. A hearing is scheduled for late June.

As in Massachusetts, the case is likely to be fought all the way to the state’s highest court, where it is likely to be received sympathetically.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court has adopted a constitutional interpretation that is pretty free-flowing, which makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the case,” said Joshua Baker, staff attorney of the Marriage Law Project, based at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.

“We’re still optimistic that arguments can prevail that [traditional] marriage is important and should be preserved, but there’s a fair amount of concern that, in the next couple of years, the New Jersey court will legalize same-sex marriage there,” he said.

Advocates expect that once homosexual “marriage” is legal in Massachusetts, New Jersey or another state, homosexual couples will marry, move to another state and seek legal recognition of their unions, thus transporting same-sex “marriage” challenges nationwide.

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