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Gay unions: A matter of rights or a threat to traditional marriage? - Editorial

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HEADLINE: Gay unions: A matter of rights or a threat to traditional marriage?

BYLINE: Rick Santorum

The Supreme Court decision striking down anti-sodomy laws has stirred up the ever-simmering debate over whether gay men and lesbians should be able to marry legally. Some now want a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Two views:

The majority of Supreme Court justices may not be willing to admit it, but everyone else seems eager to acknowledge that the greatest near-term consequence of the Lawrence v. Texas anti-sodomy ruling could be the legalization of homosexual marriage.

Although the court's majority opinion attempts to distance the ruling from the marriage debate, the dissenting justices say, "Do not believe it." Major Web sites such as America Online's home page, as well as newspapers and TV commentators, have signaled that the decision puts the gay-marriage debate in high gear. The Washington Post's front page trumpeted, "A debate on marriage, and more, now looms." And Newsweek's July 7 cover asks: "Is Gay Marriage Next?"

Before, the right to privacy in sexual matters was limited primarily to married couples. Now the court in its sweeping decision expanded constitutional privacy protection to consensual acts of sodomy, striking down anti-sodomy laws in Texas and 12 other states.

The court's majority opinion telegraphed unmistakably its position on the question of homosexual marriage. It listed "personal decisions relating to marriage" among the areas in which homosexuals "may seek autonomy," just as heterosexuals may.

The dissenting justices, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, noted: "Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned."

After the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., expressed concern over the court's encroaching upon Americans' right to protect the family and joined the majority of Americans in backing a proposed constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage. I also would support a constitutional amendment to affirm traditional marriage.

In fact, I believe that Congress has an obligation to take action to defend the legal status of marriage before the Supreme Court or individual state supreme courts take away the public's ability to act.

Every civilization since the beginning of man has recognized the need for marriage. This country and healthy societies around the world give marriage special legal protection for a vital reason -- it is the institution that ensures the society's future through the upbringing of children. Furthermore, it's just common sense that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

There is an ocean of empirical data showing that the union between a man and a woman has unique benefits for children and society. Moreover, traditional family breakdown is the single biggest social problem in America today. In study after study, family breakdown is linked to an increase in violent crime, youth crime, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency and child poverty.

Marriage has already been weakened. The out-of-wedlock childbirth rate is at a historically high level, while the divorce rate remains unacceptably high. Legalization of gay marriage would further undermine an institution that is essential to the well-being of children and our society. Do we need to confuse future generations of Americans even more about the role and importance of an institution that is so critical to the stability of our country?

The last thing we should do is destroy the special legal status of marriage. But galvanized by the Supreme Court victory, proponents of removing that status are out in force. Ruth Harlow, lead attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Texas case, said, "The ruling makes it much harder for society to continue banning gay marriages."

That is where we are today, thanks to the Texas ruling. But the majority of Americans will have the final say in the battle to preserve the institution of marriage.

I hope elected leaders will rally behind the effort to defend the legal status of marriage from a non-elected group of justices, and I urge you to join those elected leaders in this vital case.

Rick Santorum is a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

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