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Public Statements

Marriage Protection Amendment

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Location: Washington, DC


MARRIAGE PROTECTION AMENDMENT -- (House of Representatives - July 18, 2006)

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from Georgia, Dr. GINGREY, for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself 5 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I very much regret that the Republican majority in this House has brought this bill to the floor. This bill, to put it simply and bluntly, is about adding discrimination and intolerance to the United States Constitution. This is about the Republican majority's once again trying to divide and polarize the Nation. It is about the Republican leadership's taking something that should be about love and turning it into a weapon of hate.

I am proud, Mr. Speaker, to be from Massachusetts, the home of the Nation's first State Constitution. In Massachusetts over 8,000 same-sex couples have been married since May of 2004, when it became legal. I should advise my colleagues that Massachusetts has not fallen off the map into the Atlantic Ocean. The sun still rises and sets in the Commonwealth. The Red Sox still play at Fenway, and life goes on. The only thing that is different is that couples of the same sex who love each other, want to spend the rest of their lives together, and want to get married can do so. It means that men and women who happen to be gay are able to enjoy the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as men and women who happen to be straight. And, Mr. Speaker, that is how it should be.

Those who have continued to advocate a ban on same-sex marriage are on the wrong side of history. There are some here who claim that they are on some sort of moral crusade to protect the institution of marriage. To them I say worry about your own marriage. I do not need you to protect mine. I have been happily married to the same woman for 17 years without the help or interference of Congress. What we should be protecting are the civil and human rights of all Americans.

The fact that same-sex marriage is legal in my home State has had no impact on my marriage except that we were invited to more weddings. Same-sex marriage is a threat to no institution, to no individual.

The underlying bill before us would not only add discrimination to the Constitution for the first time in our history. It would repeal, it would actually take away, the rights of thousands of Americans. What do the supporters of this bill say to the gay couples in Massachusetts who are now legally married; our family members, our neighbors, our coworkers, the people who sit next to us in church? Do you say your marriage is now meaningless and we are going to take away your rights? Do you say we are sending you back to second-class citizenship? Do you say that we have so much hatred for who you are that we are willing to tarnish the United States Constitution?

Marriage law in this country has traditionally been left to the States. Indeed, even in Massachusetts the same supreme judicial court that the proponents of this bill decry recently ruled that a referendum banning same-sex marriage can go forward. That referendum is currently working its way through the process. And I believe, of course, that the referendum should and will fail, that the citizens of Massachusetts would not vote to turn back the clock. But that should be up to us, Mr. Speaker, not to the people of Colorado or Georgia or anywhere else.

In addition, this bill jeopardizes not just same-sex marriage in Massachusetts but domestic partnership and civil union laws in other parts of the country. The proposal before us is so poorly drafted that legal experts disagree on exactly what effect it will have on those laws. That means, of course, that the issue will end up back in the courts, which is ironic given the concept of court-bashing by the bill's supporters.

Mr. Speaker, the impact of this debate goes far beyond constitutional arguments. The proponents of this bill are contributing to a climate of intolerance. We will hear protests from the other side today that they have no problem with gay people. Yet here they are arguing that gay people do not deserve the same rights as everybody else.

Mr. Speaker, I am also terribly troubled by the hate spewing from some of the outside groups using the same-sex marriage issue to whip up emotions and raise money. Mr. Speaker, some of the rhetoric is just deplorable. But I doubt that we will hear any of the bill's supporters denouncing it here today on the floor.

My colleagues, discrimination is discrimination, and it should find no sanctuary in our Constitution or in our hearts. It should find no sanctuary on the floor of the people's House.

We all know why this proposal is before us. It is an election year, and if it is an election year, the Republican leadership will find a place on the agenda for gay-bashing.

This proposal is worse than a distraction. It is not an assault on our fellow citizens. It is an attack on a piece of their humanity, and I urge you to stand on the right side of history and to defeat this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to insert into the RECORD at this time an article that appeared in the Economist magazine entitled ``The Case For Gay Marriage.''

I will insert into the RECORD an executive summary of the Cato Institute's policy analysis entitled: ``The Federal Marriage Amendment: Unnecessary, Anti-federalist and Antidemocratic.''

I would also like to insert into the RECORD a letter from the Human Rights Campaign in opposition to the bill before us, a letter from the American Jewish Committee in opposition to the bill before us, a letter from the National Council of Jewish Women in opposition to the bill before us, and a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in opposition to the bill before us.
[From the Economist print edition, Feb. 26, 2004]

The Case for Gay Marriage

IT RESTS ON EQUALITY, LIBERTY AND EVEN SOCIETY

So at last it is official: George Bush is in favour of unequal rights, big-government intrusiveness and federal power rather than devolution to the states. That is the implication of his announcement this week that he will support efforts to pass a constitutional amendment in America banning gay marriage. Some have sought to explain this action away simply as cynical politics, an effort to motivate his core conservative supporters to turn out to vote for him in November or to put his likely ``Massachusetts liberal'' opponent, John Kerry, in an awkward spot. Yet to call for a constitutional amendment is such a difficult, drastic and draconian move that cynicism is too weak an explanation. No, it must be worse than that: Mr. Bush must actually believe in what he is doing.

Mr. Bush says that he is acting to protect ``the most fundamental institution of civilisation'' from what he sees as ``activist judges'' who in Massachusetts early this month confirmed an earlier ruling that banning gay marriage is contrary to their state constitution. The city of San Francisco, gay capital of America, has been issuing thousands of marriage licences to homosexual couples, in apparent contradiction to state and even federal laws. It can only be a matter of time before this issue arrives at the federal Supreme Court. An those ``activist judges'', who, by the way, gave Mr. Bush his job in 2000, might well take the same view of the federal constitution as their Massachusetts equivalents did of their state code: that the constitution demands equality of treatment. Last June, in Lawrence v. Texas, they ruled that state anti-sodomy laws violated the constitutional right of adults to choose how to conduct their private lives with regard to sex, saying further that ``the Court's obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code''. That obligation could well lead the justices to uphold the right of gays to marry.

LET THEM WED

That idea remains shocking to many people. So far, only two countries--Belgium and the Netherlands--have given full legal status to same-sex unions, though Canada has backed the idea in principle and others have conferred almost-equal rights on such partnerships. The sight of homosexual men and women having wedding days just like those enjoyed for thousands of years by heterosexuals is unsettling, just as, for some people, is the sight of them holding hands or kissing. When The Economist first argued in favour of legalising gay marriage eight years ago (``Let them wed'', January 6th 1996) it shocked many of our readers, though fewer than it would have shocked eight years earlier and more than it will shock today. That is why we argued that such a radical change should not be pushed along precipitously. But nor should it be blocked precipitously.

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else? Not just because they have always lacked that right in the past, for sure: until the late 1960s, in some American states it was illegal for black adults to marry white ones, but precious few would defend that ban now on grounds that it was ``traditional''. Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, on this argument, be ``married''. But that is to dodge the real question--why not?--and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should they be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?

CIVIL UNIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH

The reason, according to Mr. Bush, is that this would damage an important social institution. Yet the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because they see marriage as important: they want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.

But marriage is about children, say some: to which the answer is, it often is, but not always, and permitting gay marriage would not alter that. Or it is a religious act, say others: to which the answer is, yes, you may believe that, but if so it is no business of the state to impose a religious choice. Indeed, in America the constitution expressly bans the involvement of the state in religious matters, so it would be especially outrageous if the constitution were now to be used for religious ends.

The importance of marriage for society's general health and stability also explains why the commonly mooted alternative to gay marriage--a so-called civil union--is not enough. Vermont has created this notion, of a legally registered contract between a couple that cannot, however, be called a ``marriage''. Some European countries, by legislating for equal legal rights for gay partnerships, have moved in the same direction (Britain is contemplating just such a move, and even the opposition Conservative leader, Michael Howard, says he would support it). Some gays think it would be better to limit their ambitions to that, rather than seeking full social equality, for fear of provoking a backlash--of the sort perhaps epitomised by Mr. Bush this week.

Yet that would be both wrong in principle and damaging for society. Marriage, as it is commonly viewed in society, is more than just a legal contract. Moreover, to establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all. Why shouldn't everyone, in time, downgrade to civil unions? Now that really would threaten a fundamental institution of civilisation.
[From Policy Analysis, June 1, 2006]

The Federal Marriage Amendment Unnecessary, Anti-Federalist, and Anti-Democratic
(By Dale Carpenter)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Members of Congress have proposed a constitutional amendment preventing states from recognizing same-sex marriages. Proponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment claim that an amendment is needed immediately to prevent same-sex marriages from being forced on the nation. That fear is even more unfounded today than it was in 2004, when Congress last considered the FMA. The better view is that the policy debate on

same-sex marriage should proceed in the 50 states, without being cut off by a single national policy imposed from Washington and enshrined in the Constitution.

A person who opposes same-sex marriage on policy grounds can and should also oppose a constitutional amendment foreclosing it, on grounds of federalism, confidence that opponents will prevail without an amendment, or a belief that public policy issues should only rarely be determined at the constitutional level.

There are four main arguments against the FMA. First, a constitutional amendment is unnecessary because federal and state laws, combined with the present state of the relevant constitutional doctrines, already make court-ordered nationwide same-sex marriage unlikely for the foreseeable future. An amendment banning same-sex marriage is a solution in search of a problem.

Second, a constitutional amendment defining marriage would be a radical intrusion on the nation's founding commitment to federalism in an area traditionally reserved for state regulation, family law. There has been no showing that federalism has been unworkable in the area of family law.

Third, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage would be an unprecedented form of amendment, cutting short an ongoing national debate over what privileges and benefits, if any, ought to be conferred on same-sex couples and preventing democratic processes from recognizing more individual rights.

Fourth, the amendment as proposed is constitutional overkill that reaches well beyond the stated concerns of its proponents, foreclosing not just courts but also state legislatures from recognizing same-sex marriages and perhaps other forms of legal support for same-sex relationships. Whatever one thinks of same-sex marriage as a matter of policy, no person who cares about our Constitution and public policy should support this unnecessary, radical, unprecedented, and overly broad departure from the nation's traditions and history.

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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I want to agree with my colleague from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) when he says that the American people are a good and tolerant people. He is absolutely right. Unfortunately, that doesn't extend in terms of the tolerance part of it to a lot of Members of this Chamber.

I mean, we have listened to this debate for nearly an hour now, and we have heard the words from the other side, and they are words of exclusion, and even hate.

We have heard talk about family values. Well, hate is not a family value. Discrimination is not a family value. Exclusion and denying people's rights are not family values.

In Massachusetts, my home State, same-sex marriage is legal. It is legal. Gay couples can go to the town hall, city hall, fill out the forms, pay the application fee and legally get married; 8,000 couples have done so, and everything has stayed the same in Massachusetts. Life goes on.

But what you want to do here today with this amendment is not only prevent other States from acting as Massachusetts has done, but what you are saying to those 8,000 couples is that we want to affirmatively go and take away your rights; we want to null and void your legal rights.

That is shameful. It is insulting. It is discrimination. If your State wants to ban gay marriage, that is your State's right to do so, but the people of Massachusetts have a different opinion, and if the people of Massachusetts want to respect and honor same-sex marriages, that is our business. It should not be the business of the House of Representatives or the United States Senate to go in there and to go against and to void the will of the people of Massachusetts.

Mr. Speaker, this is all about politics here today. The Senate has already defeated this. This is appalling that we are here today. This is about gay-bashing. It is about winning political points. Quite frankly, this is disgraceful.

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