Comments last weekend by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist stirred debate over a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriages.
Frist, R-Tenn., said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that he fears a recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay sex threatens to make the American home a place where criminal activity is condoned.
The U.S. Supreme Court said June 26 that a Texas law prohibiting acts of sodomy between homosexuals in a private home violated a constitutional right to privacy. The ruling invalidated anti-sodomy laws in 13 states.
Reacting to the ruling, Frist said he feared the precedent could lead courts to also rule that prostitution and drug activity are protected under privacy rights.
Asked if he supported an amendment to the Constitution that would ban any marriage in the United States except unions between men and women, Frist said: “I absolutely do. Of course I do,” The Associated Press reported.
“I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament, and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between–what is traditionally in our Western values has been defined–as between a man and a woman. So I would support the amendment,” Frist said.
Frist’s comments gave center stage to a constitutional amendment proposed in May by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., that would limit legal marriages to “the union of a man and a woman.”
Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family said Frist’s support would give new momentum to those backing the amendment.
“For (Frist) to put his stamp of approval on the Federal Marriage Amendment is a wonderful sign that this legislation will move forward,” said Minnery, Focus on the Family’s vice president of public policy.
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution opposing gay marriage at its recent convention in Phoenix. Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the majority of Baptists would back a constitutional amendment, which he said is needed to prevent “lawmaking by judicial fiat,” according to the Nashville Tennessean.
Land said the ruling by the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws “focuses attention on the desperate and immediate need for the Federal Marriage Amendment in order to keep the courts from forcing gay ‘marriage’ on the public the same way it is forcing the legalization of homosexual behavior on an unwilling public,” according to Baptist Press.
Not all conservatives support the amendment, however.
Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said he opposed the Supreme Court ruling but doesn’t favor changing the Constitution. “There’s nothing wrong with the Constitution,” he said. What’s needed, he added, is for the executive and legislative branches to rein in “rampant judicial activism,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Gay-rights groups protested Frist’s call for a constitutional amendment.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian political organization, denounced Frist’s comments as an attack on gay families.
“It would be wrong to write discrimination into the Constitution and erase the right to privacy,” said Winnie Stachelberg, the group’s political director.
The Log Cabin Republicans also disagreed strongly with Frist.
“We need a defense against terrorism and a defense against tax increases, not a defense against marriage that will unnecessarily divide the American family,” said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the organization for gay Republicans.
The White House declined to take sides.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Tuesday that President Bush believes “marriage is an institution between a man and a woman,” but deflected a question about whether the president supports amending the Constitution. Fleischer said the issue was “a question in the legal realm,” according to the article in the in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The text of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment reads:
“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any state under state or federal law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”
To be added to the Constitution, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Proponents of the amendment say it is needed to head off legal gains made by supporters of same-sex marriage.
Ontario’s highest court two weeks ago struck down the nation’s ban on same-sex marriages. Canada is expected to extend the ruling to all provinces.
Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule this summer on whether to legalize gay marriage in the state.
Vermont already recognizes same-sex unions and grants them most legal benefits of marriage.
Seven same-sex couples have sued for the right to get married in New Jersey, in a case argued in a county courthouse in Trenton last Thursday.
Congress in 1996 passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which says the federal government doesn’t recognize gay marriages performed by a state and that no other state has to accept gay marriages performed in other states. Observers expect that law to be found unconstitutional, however, under the “full faith and credit” clause in Article IV of the Constitution, which requires states to honor public acts, records and judicial proceedings of other states.
Surveys reveal growing public support for granting same-sex partners the same legal rights as married couples.
A recent Gallup Poll found that six in 10 Americans believe homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal, essentially agreeing with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas anti-sodomy law case. Despite that, a majority of Americans believe homosexuality is morally wrong, according to Gallup.
A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Americans (55 percent) still oppose marriage between same-sex couples, but 61 percent of younger adults age 18-29 believe homosexual marriages should be valid. Opposition to gay marriage has softened considerably, the poll said. When the same question was asked in March 1996, 68 percent said homosexual marriages should not be recognized by law.
In other news, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, announced Tuesday that it was expanding its antidiscrimination policy to protect gay and lesbian employees. A letter said the store chain would not discriminate against homosexuals in hiring or promotions. Officials said Wal-Mart has no plans, however, to extend medical benefits to domestic partners of gay workers.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.