Ban on Gay Marriages

Is a constitutional amendment that would 'ban homosexual marriages and civil unions being pushed through Congress'?

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Claim:   A constitutional amendment that would “ban homosexual marriages and civil unions” is “being pushed through Congress.”

Status:   Sort of.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

Ban on Gay Marriages Bill Now in Congress

There is a Constitutional Amendment being proposed that will ultimately ban homosexual marriages/civil unions and possibly domestic partner benefits in the future. It is being pushed through Congress quickly so as to make as little noise as possible.

There’s so much else in the news right now, that the amendment is not being noticed. This petition is being organized by a second party — it’s NOT an “add your name to the bottom and forward” sort of thing. You must go to the site itself in order to sign the petition.

Please pass this along to your friends and family.

Origins:   The issue over whether states should recognize same-sex marriages or allow for civil unions that extend same-sex couples the same benefits and rights as married male-female couples remains controversial. Vermont recently implemented the nation’s first civil union system to provide the equivalent rights and benefits of heterosexual marriage to same-sex couples, and five other state legislatures (Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington, Hawaii, and California) have considered similar measures. In response, thirty-five other states (and the federal government) have adopted “defense of marriage laws” to define marriage specifically as a union between a man and a woman. In July 2001, the group Alliance for Marriage began to promote the passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment to legislate that “marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman,” an action that — if successful — could effectively prevent or overturn state laws recognizing same-sex marriages and civil unions. The petition linked above seeks to enlist support to prevent this from happening.

In order to become part of the constitution, an amendment must:

  1. Be proposed by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Amendments can also be proposed by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures, but none of the current twenty-seven amendments was introduced in this manner.)
  2. Be ratified by three-fourths of the states (currently 38 out of 50).

The Federal Marriage Amendment was finally introduced on 15 May 2002, but the claim that it is being “pushed through Congress” is somewhat misleading, as it implies that the amendment is being sneaked past unaware Congressman or is likely to be passed due to the strong-arming efforts of its supporters. It hasn’t even come up for a vote yet (and indeed, it may never be voted upon), and FOX News noted that the “amendment has little chance of becoming the law of the land merely because of the obstacles a measure must overcome to change the Constitution.” (Since most Democrats would presumably vote against such an amendment, and the composition of both the House and the Senate is close to 50-50, the chances of a two-thirds majority in both houses are rather slim.)

Consider the following:

  • Despite several attempts to draft an amendment outlawing the burning of the American flag since the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was protected free speech, no flag-burning amendment has ever garnered enough support to be sent to the states for ratification (even when the Republican party held a majority in both houses of Congress).
  • Every single constitutional amendment ratified in the last eighty years (save the amendment repealing Prohibition in 1933) has dealt with technical regulations regarding who can hold national office (and how they’re compensated) and who can vote.
  • No proposed amendment of any other nature has cleared Congress and been sent to the states for ratification in thirty years. The last amendment to do so, the Equal Rights Amendment, still has not been ratified by a sufficient number of states three decades later, despite having been reintroduced in every Congress since then.

What’s the significance of all this? Politicians shy away from passing important laws like consitutional amendments that could cost them votes and deny them re-election. That’s why all the successful amendments in the last eight decades have dealt with the technicalities of holding office or laws affecting who can vote — politicians’ passing amendments to govern themselves is politically safe, and politicians’ allowing more people to vote generally garners them the support of the voters they just enfranchised. But for a long time time now, constitutional amendments involving social issues — even one as comparatively innocuous as the Equal Rights Amendment — have been too controversial for comfort.

The bottom line is that it’s a very long way from “some group wants to pass a constitutional amendment” to actually amending the constitution, and the proposal discussed here isn’t even within sight of the finish line. Dedicated efforts are indeed being made by both those who would like to pass this amendment and those who would like to defeat it, however, so citizens who feel strongly about the issue should certainly contact their representatives to make their views known.

Last updated:   5 January 2008


  Sources Sources:

    Ferdinand, Pamela.   “With Vermont in the Lead, Controversy Progresses.”

    The Washington Post.   4 September 2001   (p. A3).

    Mattox Jr., William.   “Marriage Issues Send My Daughter Wrong Message.”

    USA Today.   21 August 2001   (p. A11).