Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Congressional action this year to define marriage as a union between a man and woman is unlikely as the clock winds down to adjournment, despite increased calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex “marriage.”

A pending amendment in the House has not been given a hearing this year, let alone considered for committee or full floor votes, and no legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

But House sponsor Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, said Tuesday’s ruling by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court giving homosexual couples the right to “marry” still will be a hot issue when Congress returns next year.

“This has the entire nation reeling,” Mrs. Musgrave said. “I think there will be a groundswell from the public wanting hearings and wanting action. So there’s going to be high expectations for those of us in Congress to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment and a groundswell of support from the states to ratify it.”

A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support in the House and Senate, plus the ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Key House Republican leaders, however, say amending the Constitution is a last resort. They are hedging their bets that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.

Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, who is the original author of DOMA, passed by Congress in 1996, said the legislation’s purpose was to prevent homosexual couples from claiming federal benefits.

The law also prevents same sex-couples who might “marry” in one state from claiming under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution that other states must recognize the union.

Mr. Barr said the law should stand up before the Supreme Court, but its intention was never to tell states how to legislate the issue.

“DOMA does not prohibit any state from defining marriage however it wants to — I specifically limited it to respect the principles of federalism,” Mr. Barr said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he expects state and federal courts to enforce DOMA.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said the Texas Republican “is very reluctant to amend the Constitution,” which he described as a “long and cumbersome process.”

But Mr. DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said they will consider all options, including a constitutional amendment.

“It’s only an option of last resort, but marriage has to be protected,” said Stuart Roy, Mr. DeLay’s spokesman.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and former state attorney general, said their office has spent months studying the issue of a constitutional amendment.

Mr. Cornyn believes the Massachusetts court’s decision puts DOMA “in peril” and “he thinks marriage is important enough to proceed with a constitutional amendment,” Mr. Stewart said.

President Bush told Congress after the Massachusetts court’s decision that he will work with them to defend “the sanctity of marriage.”

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