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Marriage Protection Amendment

Location: Washington, DC

MARRIAGE PROTECTION AMENDMENT -- (House of Representatives - September 30, 2004)


Mr. CARDIN. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.J. Res. 106, a constitutional amendment regarding marriage.

I personally believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. In 1996, I voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which became law with President Clinton's signature. The Act defined marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman. The bill also protected states from being compelled to honor another state's law or judicial proceeding that recognizes marriage between persons of the same sex. DOMA is current federal law.

I am therefore puzzled as to why the House leadership has chosen to schedule this matter for a vote in such a hasty manner, without the benefit of a markup in the Judiciary Committee, just one month before Election Day. In July of this year, the Senate rejected this amendment by a vote of 48-50, short of even a majority vote, and much less than the two-thirds vote required to send the amendment to the states for ratification.

This amendment is unnecessary. DOMA is the law of the land which both defines marriage at the federal level and protects states from having to change their own definitions of marriage by recognizing other states' same-sex marriage licenses. DOMA has never been invalidated by any court, and many states have properly used DOMA to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The decision of the citizens of Massachusetts to authorize same-sex marriages in their state in no way requires the citizens of the state of Maryland to do so.

I am also concerned about the unnecessarily broad scope of the amendment, which states that Federal or State constitutions shall not be construed "to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and woman." (emphasis supplied). Many State, county and local governments currently provide either domestic partner benefits or civil union benefits to gays and lesbians in their jurisdictions. Such benefits include visiting each other in the hospital, sharing health insurance plans, and rights of inheritance. These benefits-again, decided by local governments and citizens-could be called into question by this Federal constitutional amendment if they are considered "legal incidents" of marriage. As compared to a Federal statute, a constitutional amendment limits the ability of Congress to make future changes.

The first sentence of the amendment does not even require State action, which means that private parties-such as religious institutions and private businesses-could be bound by the Federal Government's definition of "marriage." The amendment could therefore call into question the benefits that many companies provide to same-sex partners. I note that a broad array of both civil rights, religious, and business organizations are opposed to the amendment.

Finally, Congress should only adopt a constitutional amendment as a matter of last resort when a statutory approach is ineffective. In this case, that standard has not been met. We have only amended our Constitution seventeen times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

I have consistently supported legislation to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. For example, I believe that Congress should make it illegal to terminate an employee solely on the basis of sexual orientation. I believe this amendment is inconsistent with the civil rights currently enjoyed by many gays and lesbians as a result of State and local laws. This constitutional amendment could inadvertently sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation beyond the legal status of marriage.

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