Congress Set to Debate Gay Marriage
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 3, 2004; 8:58 AM
WASHINGTON - Congress is taking its first steps toward what promises to be a divisive election-year battle over a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.
Using the Massachusetts high court ruling permitting same-sex marriages as an impetus, the Senate Judiciary Constitution subcommittee is focusing on whether judges are overstepping their bounds and eroding traditional marriage.
Gay rights supporters are fighting back, framing the issue as America's next civil rights battle.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he called Wednesday's hearing to examine the "judicial invalidation of traditional marriage laws." Cornyn supports a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
"Judicial activism has made the defense of marriage a national issue that can only be addressed at the national level," Cornyn said.
In November, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Thousands of gay weddings have been performed in San Francisco since Feb. 12, when the city began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Last week, President Bush last week called on Congress to quickly pass an amendment prohibiting gay marriages.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who effectively wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday, says he is against gay marriage but would oppose amending the U.S. Constitution to bar it.
In testimony prepared for delivery Wednesday, Yale University Professor R. Lea Brilmayer said a constitutional amendment to determine what Massachusetts can do within its own borders would be wrong.
"It is for the people of Massachusetts to say what their constitution should say," she said. "This premise is the basic principle of federalism, upon which the American constitutional system as a whole depends."
But other legal experts disagree. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who is also expected to testify, said the Massachusetts ruling could invalidate Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriages.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton tried to leave the gay marriage issue up to the states. But Bruning said recent court decisions indicate that federal courts may eventually allow same-sex marriages.
The arguments for and against a constitutional amendment also fall along social and civil rights lines.
© 2004 The Associated Press