Right wingers falter on Massachusetts, federal marriage bans
The number one priority of right wing groups across the country is amending the constitutions of the United States and the states themselves, particularly Massachusetts, to limit marriage to a man and a woman. But infighting on the right and hesitation by moderates and even some prominent conservatives may thwart the efforts to codify anti-gay discrimination through such routes.
In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney pledged the moment the Supreme Judicial court ruled that marriage must be open to gay couples to pursue an amendment to the state constitution Out gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) conceded that the voters in that state would likely vote on such an amendment in 2006, the earliest it could be scheduled under Massachusetts law. But a Boston Globe poll of state legislators this week found that they opposed such an action by a 2-1 margin. The newspaper heard from 94 of 200 lawmakers in the state.
Among opponents of an amendment are Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Majority Leader Salvatore DiMasi, both Democrats. House Speaker Thomas Finneran, also a Democrat and an opponent of same-sex marriage, has yet to weigh in on the amendment or how the legislature will comply with the court decision, though prior to the court ruling he said he would be inclined toward an amendment should gay marriage be granted. The legislators will meet in a joint session on February 11 to take up the constitutional amendment, and the high court gave the legislature 180 days to conform state law to its ruling.
Polls of voters in Massachusetts and nationally have uncovered scant support for marriage amendments, despite the fact that 37 states have already banned same-sex marriage including four in their constitutions.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a liberal Republican and now a New Yorker, told the Globe this week that the court’s decision “is a thunderbolt, but a thunderbolt correctly heard.” Weld appointed Justice Margaret Marshall, who wrote the decision, to the Massachusetts high court. “It’s all over,” Weld said after reading the opinion in detail, and noted, “I may well officiate at a same-sex marriage next year.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, a Democrat, has read the court’s opinion to say that the legislature could institute civil unions rather than opening marriage to same-sex couples. This week he was rebuked by the Boston Globe editorial page, which said, “The word game is demeaning to all citizens no matter what their sexual orientation. Fundamental civil rights cannot and should not be compromised.” The newspaper urged Reilly and Romney, who is also looking for wiggle room, to “read the opinion again.”
Also attacking Reilly was James Shannon, a former Massachusetts Attorney General, who wrote in the Globe, “It is hard to understand how any of our political leaders can argue that the recent Supreme Judicial court decision could mean anything but extending civil marriage to same-sex couples.”
Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), who successfully argued the case
of the seven plaintiff couples before the Massachusetts court, said that the only role for the legislature is to rewrite the marriage laws to conform with the decision, updating it, for instance, to bar a woman from marrying her mother or sister the way it currently bans her from marrying her father or brother. If the legislature tries to substitute a civil union law, however, GLAD is determined to go back into court in May to secure immediate marriage rights for the seven couples it represented in this suit.
One kink in the march to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts is a provision of state law that forbids marriages of out-of-staters whose marriage “would be void if contracted in such other jurisdiction.” Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA, told the Associated Press, “My reading is that it’s not going to be easy [for non-resident same-sex couples to marry] unless the clerks aren’t diligent and don’t check where people are residing.”
The Netherlands and Belgium, the only two countries to let gay couples marry, require residency by at least one of the partners. Ontario and British Columbia this year opened up marriage to same-sex couples worldwide. Vermont civil unions are also open to non-residents.
Nationally, the religious right wants to close the door to same-sex marriage permanently, but the Washington Post reports that the coalition to do that “is deeply divided about what” the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) should say. One version of the amendment was introduced in the U.S. House in May and has more than 100 sponsors. The Senate companion bill was introduced this week by Colorado Republican Wayne Allard with two co-sponsors, Jefferson Sessions of Alabama and Sam Brownback of Kansas.
The amendment currently before the Congress says: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.” It was drafted by the Alliance for Marriage whose president, Matt Daniels, insists that the amendment would allow states to confer domestic partner or civil union benefits, though some more moderate same-sex marriage opponents disagree and oppose it because they believe it would undo all domestic partner laws.
There is, to date, no evidence of movement among conservatives to narrow the proposed constitutional amendment to make clear that it would only ban same-sex marriage in an effort to broaden its appeal.
Tilting in the other direction, a group dubbed the Arlington Group has been secretly meeting to plot an amendment that would absolutely close the door to any benefits for gay couples. The effort is led by former Nixon aide and ex-felon Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries and joined by such heavy hitters as Gary Bauer, a Reagan aide and head of American Values, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Bill Bennett of Empower America and casino addiction fame, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association the Post reported. That group wants to add the following clause to the FMA: “Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights or immunities on the existence, recognition or presumption of non-marital sexual relationships.”
Daniels was excluded from their meetings.
Colson told the Post that their clause would not preclude civil unions, but the benefits would have to flow to “any two people who live together.” But Dale Carpenter, a gay Republican law professor from the University of Minnesota, was quoted in the article saying that the Vermont civil union law does not require gay people to be in a sexual relationship and that Colson’s clause “doesn’t really accomplish anything, except to expose the extent to which some religious conservatives are fixated on gay sex.”
Stalwart same-sex marriage opponents such as New York Post columnist Maggie Gallagher said, “I cannot join any coalition willing to fight for the whole loaf but certain to go down to ‘noble’ defeat.” But Colson is afraid that if the amendment keeps marriage heterosexual “in name only,” they won’t be able to excite their troops enough to get it through Congress and 38 state legislatures, the Post reported.
Whether the amendment is tenable or not, tens of millions of dollars are being raised by the religious right to fight for it. Opponents of the amendment are being organized through DontAmend.com, NGLTF, the Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality, Freedom to Marry, and virtually every state and local LGBT group in the country.
The Catholic bishops in Massachusetts, still reeling from the scandal of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests, made their effort to rehabilitate themselves by condemning same-sex marriage in a letter to be read from every pulpit last Sunday, calling the court decision there “misguided” and “a tragedy” and urging all Catholics to speak out against it. Not all pastors in Massachusetts read the letter.
Right wing leaders are becoming impatient with President George W. Bush who has yet to weigh in on the amendment campaign. He opposed the Massachusetts court decision in a statement on November 18 while flying to London, pledging to “defend the sanctity of marriage,” but his aides said he was too busy to address the amendment issue. Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “We would see people staying home in droves if [Bush] does not show strength on this.”
The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, while all supporting some form of civil union benefits, continue to decline endorse same-sex marriage. Howard Dean, who early in the campaign attracted gay support because he signed the Vermont civil union law and opposed the war from the get-go, told the San Francisco Chronicle this week, “Marriage started out as a religious institution, and most people still think of it that way.” His just released campaign biography says, “I think churches should decide who gets married and who does not.” He also says gay couples should have exactly the same rights as heterosexual married couples, and that the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages from Massachusetts and Canada.
Former General Wesley Clark, writing in this week’s Gay City News, said he “welcomed the Massachusetts court decision with open arms,” but said that marriage law should be left up to “churches and state legislatures.”
Dan Kennedy, writing in the Providence Phoenix, urged the Democrats to “embrace the wedge” of the same-sex marriage issue and get on board instead of being so defensive. Liberals, he wrote, “have ceded the language of morality to the religious right, contenting themselves with court rulings and legalisms.”