Thursday, July 8, 2004

The House is expected to vote within weeks on legislation limiting federal court jurisdiction over cases involving marriage, and this fall, members will vote on a constitutional amendment defining the institution, a top Republican said yesterday.

“Marriage is under attack,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “We intend to fight it on all fronts.”

House Republican leaders have been slower to act on the marriage issue than their Senate counterparts, who set a vote for next week on the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

But Mr. DeLay made it clear yesterday that the House will “use every opportunity to defend marriage.”

He said a constitutional amendment eventually will be needed to protect traditional marriage from being redefined by the courts. A vote, he said, will happen after the August break.

The court-jurisdiction bill — which will come up for a House vote in the next few weeks — is another way to defend traditional marriage, Mr. DeLay said.

Voting on the court-jurisdiction bill, he said, could put pressure on the Senate to take up similar court legislation. Many House Republicans like the idea of reasserting congressional authority over the judicial branch.

“We’ve done it before on other issues, and we frankly intend to do more of it,” Mr. DeLay said yesterday.

The House court-jurisdiction bill is crafted by Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican. It would strip the federal courts and the Supreme Court of their ability to hear cases pertaining to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which says states don’t have to recognize same-sex “marriages” from other states.

Democrats say court-stripping is unfair and proposed by Republicans as a tool to get their own way.

“Whenever a federal court issues a ruling that conflicts with their conservative leanings, the Republicans try to strip federal courts from hearing similar cases,” said House Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, speaking at a June 24 hearing on the court-stripping bill in the Judiciary Constitution subcommittee.

Supporters of the bill say it is an immediate way to stop a renegade federal judge from striking down DOMA and forcing states to recognize same-sex “marriages” performed in Massachusetts. Opponents say court-stripping would deny a particular group of people — in this case, homosexuals — the ability to have their grievances heard at the federal level.

Meanwhile, as the Senate prepares to vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, many senators remain undecided — or at least reluctant to talk about how they will vote.

The marriage amendment needs 67 votes to pass the Senate, which both sides say is not likely to happen. Republicans expect Democrats to try to block the Senate from debating the measure, so they want to get at least the 60 votes needed to force a debate and final vote.

Democratic aides and some Republicans said achieving even 60 votes is unlikely, but amendment supporters said if they fall short, the vote will put senators on the record and will start a much-needed national debate on marriage.

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