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Public Statements

Statements in Reaction to Today's Senate Vote on the Proposed Amendment to the Constitution Banning Gay Marriage

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service July 14, 2004 Wednesday

July 14, 2004 Wednesday












SEN. LEAHY: Good afternoon. We've-the vote, the end of the vote was delayed a little bit because I guess not everybody's shown, but enough have done to know where we are.

I'm afraid that once again the president has shown himself to be a divider and not a uniter. Every political calculation Republican strategists could have made has been made in their handling of this proposal to amend the Constitution. They cut committee corners, they cut procedural corners on the Senate floor, they scheduled this debate in a way for the-for crass political considerations. And it's turned out to be done for pure politics at the expense of gay and lesbian Americans and the families and friends and coworkers who care about them. But, there has been one silver lining on this. It's been instructive. It's shown why a constitutional amendment is unnecessary.

The Constitution doesn't require states to recognize marriages performed in states that marriages-opposed to their public policy. And about 40 states have already clearly stated they recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. They also showed the United States Supreme Court is not about to grab the other 49 states and say, You must do what the Republican-appointed justices did in Massachusetts. And we also showed it is blatant politics when you spend-we only have five weeks left in this session. We spend a week on this, we can't pass a Homeland Security appropriations bill, we can't pass a Patient's Bill of Rights, we can't pass a budget, and so on.

Remember, we've only amended the Constitution 17 times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Most of those times were to expand the rights of Americans, like voting rights. We did restrict the rights of Americans once, and that was for Prohibition. It didn't take us long to realize restricting the rights of Americans was a mistake. And the states who are so worried about this, we take two of the largest states in the country: California and New York, Republican governors-Governor Schwarzenegger, Governor Pataki-they see no need for it. I compliment the Log Cabin Republicans who forthrightly came out against this and did say that while Vice President Cheney and I rarely agree, we did agree on this. He is a-we did agree that we didn't need the constitutional amendment. The vice president wasn't quite as vociferous in stating it as he is in some things, but we do agree on that.

So many want to speak. We're starting a little bit late. I'll turn it over to Congressman Crowley from New York.

REP. CROWLEY: Thank you, Senator. I think there may be a vote going on soon --

STAFF (?): (No, no, we're open ?).

REP. CROWLEY: Oh, okay, okay. But I want to thank the senator and congratulate him and his colleagues who-in their victory today here on the floor of the Senate.

Today the U.S. Senate is focusing on what one of its supporters calls, and I quote, "the so-called greatest threat to America as we know it," end quote, an amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Being a New Yorker and from New York City, I think America saw what the greatest threat to America was on 9/11 2001.

But instead of focusing on capturing and destroying Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the al Qaeda network, the president and his supporters in Congress continue to push for a constitutional amendment to limit the rights of a certain group of Americans.

Republicans can't run on the record. They haven't caught Osama. They have lost over 2 million jobs in the private sector economy. And millions of Americans have lost their health insurance and retirement pensions, all in just three short years of this administration.

But even then, Mr. Bush's own Republicans are fleeing the sinking ship called the Bush-Cheney 2004. His own party won't even Mr. Bush the votes he needs for an even symbolic victory on this issue.

This is Bush reelection politics at its worst. Gays and lesbians are one of the last minority groups in United States society today where it is still publicly acceptable to be hated. But that doesn't make it right. And everything surrounding this debate in the Senate today-the amendment itself, the slippery Republican maneuvering that went on, the Republican gay-baiting for those mysterious 4 million far-right conservatives who supposedly didn't vote in the 2000 election-all of it is wrong, especially for those people who call themselves compassionate conservatives.

For a man who came to Washington as a uniter, I've never seen a more divided nation in my lifetime. It is time for a Congress that is responsive to the American people and not to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

This is a great victory today for all Americans, not only for the people within the gay and lesbian community, but for all Americans, that this resolution to amend our Constitution will not go forward in the U.S. Senate today.

We'll still wait and see what chicanery will go on in the House of Representatives, but we'll keep a watchful eye, and we will be there to knock back that movement in the House itself.

And with me is one of the members from Colorado, Diana DeGette.

REP. DEGETTE: Thank you very much, Joe.

I'm Congresswoman Diana DeGette, from the 1st Congressional District of Colorado. I'm also the House floor whip for the Democrats.

And I have a message for the Republican leadership in the House: Take a clue from the Senate. The support is not there in Congress for a constitutional amendment that would remove rights for a group of Americans. Congress has serious business to do and we have five more weeks of legislative business left to do it in.

Not even a majority of votes could be mustered for this amendment in the Senate, much less the two-thirds required. The same is true in the House. I've been one of the members, including Mr. Crowley, Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and others, who have been counting the votes in the House.

The votes are not there in the House to amend the Constitution.

So let's call this what it really is: a blatant attempt to prey on Americans' fears to affect the outcome of the election in November. This is wrong. Americans should not and will not stand for it, and I ask the Republican leadership in the House to focus on the issues that we care about: jobs, the continuing threat of terrorism, health care for all of our children, and a cohesive environmental policy that will stop the kinds of blackouts that we had last summer. Let's focus on these issues, not just this week and next week but in the fall, as Americans will be deciding who they will vote for in the polls. Let's not use this vote, which they know they will lose, to tie up our time. Let's conduct the people's business, and let's do it now.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MS. JACQUES: Thank you.

I'm Cheryl Jacques, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, and I am so proud to stand here with these elected officials who understand about uniting this country.

I'm Cheryl Jacques, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, and I am very proud to stand here with these elected officials who are uniting our country, as well as our coalition partners, who understand the principle of bringing Americans together.

This is a truly historic day. Today we saw President Bush and the Republican leadership attempt to divide America, and it backfired, instead dividing their own party. We saw in a bipartisan show of support that they couldn't get a simple majority to amend the United States Constitution. We saw the politics of distraction fail and fail handily today, and now we can return to the priorities that matter the most to Americans: the war, the economy, the cost of health care, safe communities, good schools.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

MR. HENDERSON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The Leadership Conference is the nation's oldest, largest and most diverse coalition of national organizations working to advance civil and human rights.

There's good news for the American people this afternoon from the Senate floor and that is that the Constitution lives another day. The Leadership Conference is extremely proud of the majority, the bipartisan majority, of American senators who voted today to block consideration of the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment, and in doing so, actually have voted in favor of preserving the integrity of the Constitution for all Americans.

Civil rights are the constitutional birthright of all Americans, but to have any meaning, we must measure them by a single yardstick. Today's Senate action simply says that the Constitution is too important to be used as a pincushion in what has become a matter less about protecting the sanctity of marriage and more about political jockeying and an election year characterized by close races.

We strongly believe that today's vote is a repudiation of those who would seek to divide our country using issues that really amount to nothing more than a distraction from the serious policy questions confronting Americans today: issues of war and peace, issues of deficit and unemployment and the future of the country overall, and issues of civil rights.

And we strongly believe that civil rights issues are the business of America. They've never been partisan issues. And today's vote really helps to demonstrate just how important these issues are to all Americans.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MS./REP. : Thank you, Wade.

REV. DIXON: I'm the Right Reverend Jane Holmes Dixon, retired bishop of Washington pro tempore. And I am here today to say that not all people of faith believe that we should amend the Constitution to deny people their civil rights, their rights under the law. In the history of our nation, this great document to form a more perfect union and establish justice has been amended to include, not to exclude, never to exclude.

And the Federal Marriage Amendment that was debated in the Senate today-and I stand with my colleagues to say, to those senators who voted against this cloture, thank God for you-that Federal Marriage amendment is for exclusion.

Marriage has a significant and profound meaning for many, many people. It does for me, both as a bishop in the Episcopal Church and as a woman who has been married for almost 44 years. People of all faiths are free to make their own judgments about what makes a marriage in the eyes of God, and they should be. There are many in the religious community who believe-and I am one-that a constitutional amendment will make it more difficult for people to engage in civil discourse about this issue.

Furthermore, churches, synagogues and other religious institutions have not been and will never be required to perform any marriage.

Among my concerns today is that this debate is just beginning and not ending. And as a Christian, my faith calls me to respect the dignity of every human being, to strive for justice and to tear down the walls that separate us.

So as we look at the 108th Congress drawing to a close, time is a luxury that Congress can ill afford to waste.

There are many issues again that my colleagues have put before you today that Congress needs to address, like jobs for the unemployed, work to provide health insurance for the over 144 million Americans without that, to provide excellent schools for our children, and to ensure care and compassion for the elderly.

You, the members of Congress, are our representatives to ensure this more perfect union and to see that justice is done. I ask you to do just that.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. MURPHY: My name is Laura Murphy. I'm director of the ACLU Washington office, and it's always a great day when we can end the day with the same Constitution we started out with. And we are very, very pleased by this vote, by the fact that it was bipartisan in nature. And I hope this sends a message to the House of Representatives, which is now considering a court-stripping bill on this issue that, in a bipartisan fashion, Americans reject enshrining discrimination into our laws.

We thank the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and especially those senators, Republican and Democrat, who rejected the divisive politics of this administration. We're very, very proud and happy about this day. (Applause.)

REV. LYNN: Thank you. My name is Barry Lynn. I'm an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the director of the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Today's vote is a very powerful repudiation of bigotry in America. It rejects unnecessary tampering with the Constitution. It is a strong rebuke to the religious right.

A serious threat to the separation of church and state lurked in the shadows of this debate from the very beginning, because supporters of this amendment have used religious language to describe their goals. Marriage was sacred, said President Bush; and it was a sacrament, according to Senator Frist. The promotion of the sacred and the preservation of sacraments is the province of religion, not of government.

Had this amendment passed, those of us associated with religious groups that do perform same-gender marriages and unions would have had our religious rituals treated as second-class actions never to be recognized by a state. As a minister, I think what rituals I perform and for whom I perform them is a matter of my business, God's business, but not the state's business. We don't need a federal department of marriage security spying on our houses of worship looking for "illicit" unions to stamp out.

This debate was spawned, unfortunately, by an unholy marriage between political leaders with an eye on the ballot box and some very mean-spirited religious right leaders. Now it is truly time for a divorce. Congress needs to move on.

We're not naive. We know that there will get more battles ahead to keep a decent separation between the institutions of government and those of religion. But nevertheless, the victory is, as noted in one version of Holy Scriptures, this victory is sufficient unto today.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. JACOBS: Good afternoon. I'm Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations for Legal Momentum, the former NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. I stand here this afternoon on behalf of the myriad women's groups that rallied to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment. And I also want to thank the senators for the courage that they showed this afternoon in voting down a vote for bigotry and a vote for enshrining discrimination in the Constitution.

I want to point out this scarf that I'm wearing, which is one that Liz Claiborne makes every year because of its commitment to anti- violence work. Because of the courage of the senators this afternoon, violence has not been done to the U.S. Constitution. The notion that it is important to put the rights of one group above another has been voted down. This is a victory for all Americans, and I hope that the Senate and the House likewise will turn rapidly to the business at hand: to getting rid of the scourge of domestic violence, to working on welfare reform, to working for improving the economy and education, and making this country safe against terrorism, and returning to the business of the American people, which is not the business of enshrining bigotry in the U.S. Constitution.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS/.REP. : Martin?

MR. ORNELAS-QUINTERO: My name's Martin Ornelas-Quintero, and I'm the executive director of LLEGO, the national Latino and Latina Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization.

Let me be clear on two points. Today the Senate decided to stop wasting everybody's time. This is not a priority.

For anyone that would lead you to believe that Latinos or other ethnic/racial minorities support bigotry and discrimination, they are mistaken. Today we are releasing preliminary information from the first national poll on Latino attitudes on the Federal Marriage Amendment and on discrimination towards gays and lesbians. Unequivocally, the majority of Latinos support stopping discrimination for gays and lesbians, and opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment, an act that every major Hispanic civil rights organization has taken, including MALDEF, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and the National Council of La Raza.

Thank you.

MS/.REP. : Thank you all. And Senator Boxer was here as well. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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