National Catholic Register


Defense of Marriage Act Moves Ahead

BY Michael Barbera

June 30, 1996 Issue | Posted 6/30/96 at 1:00 PM


Special to the Register

THE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT, which would give states the right to refuse to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states, has been drafted by members of Congress. The act defines marriage, for the purposes of federal law, as a union of only one man to only one woman.

The ruling grew out of the Hawaii Supreme Court's 1993 ruling that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the state constitution's Equal Protection Clause and Equal Rights Amendment. The court sent the case to trial to see if there is a compelling state interest in denying same-sex marriages. Legal experts expect the outcome of the trial to be consistent with the Hawaii Supreme Court's ruling, requiring the state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

These actions in Hawaii could affect the other 49 states. The U.S. Constitution provides that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State” (Article IV, section 1). In effect, the “full faith and credit” clause would override any state laws outlawing homosexual marriages.

Homosexual couples across the country will want to get married in Hawaii and return to their home states as legally-married couples.

This would hold major ramifications for insurance coverage and benefits, as well as raise some sticky questions. Will state and federal benefits payments be affected? Will adoption laws need to be changed? Will school curriculums need to be changed?

A USA Today poll found that 67 percent of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriages.

Although the Defense of Marriage Act does not prohibit individual states from recognizing same-sex marriages, it does allow that “no state should be required to give effect” to a same-sex marriage license issued by another state. Congress is now considering the legislation, which has been sponsored by Rep. Robert Barr (R-Ga.). The House version of the bill (H.R. 3396) had 113 co-sponsors as of June 13, while an identical Senate version sponsored by Sen. Don Nickels (R-Okla.) has 18 co-sponsors.

The bill was passed by the House Subcommittee on the Constitution May 30, and by the House Judiciary Committee June 12. It now awaits a vote on the House floor.

“The outlook for passage of the bill is excellent,” said Carter Cornice, a spokesman for Congressman Barr. “Our supporters are bi-partisan, and we are getting new co-sponsors everyday. The House leadership has told us that there will be a floor vote this summer, hopefully in July. We are hopeful that Senate action will follow shortly thereafter.”

In his opening statement before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution May 15, Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) said “I expect—and in fact I hope—that most Americans will think it quite odd that we are actually considering legislation to define marriage as an exclusively heterosexual and monogamous institution. Simply stated, in the history of our country ‘marriage’ has never meant anything else,” he added. “It is, inherently and necessarily, reserved for unions between one man and one woman.”

Backers of the legislation can point to overwhelming public support. A USA Today poll found that 67 percent of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriages.

President Clinton angered the gay and lesbian community when he indicated he would sign the bill. Supporters of the Defense of Marriage Act are pleased that Clinton shares their point of view for a change.

“If we can find an issue where the Christian Coalition and Bill Clinton are on the same side, I'm all in favor of it,” said Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed in an interview with The New York Times.

Reed, however, like some profamily leaders, wonders whether Clinton will follow through on his pledge. “Once this bill goes to his desk, there's a better than even chance that the organized gay lobby will go into orbit and create a lot of problems for the President. And I think that will be a real test of his leadership.”

Michael Barbera is based in Washington, D.C.