Senate Anti-Gay Marriage Hearing a Divisive Diversion

Cornyn hearing likely to elevate bigotry and political grandstanding

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights Subcommittee is holding a September 4 hearing on whether the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which became law in 1996, is itself in need of defensive action. DOMA denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and purports to authorize states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages that might one day be recognized in other states. People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas called the hearing “a divisive attack on the principles of fairness and equality and a diversion from the many real issues that require urgent congressional attention.”

Neas said the hearing, called by subcommittee chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), will provide “a veneer of respectability to anti-gay bigotry” and “an unfortunate opportunity for political grandstanding on an issue that has a real impact on people’s lives, families, and children.”

“Marriages face many stresses and challenges,” said Neas, “but the supposed ‘threat’ that gay people and their families might have their relationships receive the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage is not one of them. My marriage would not be weakened in any way if my gay and lesbian colleagues were given the legal protections they deserve under any notion of fairness. Our country will be stronger when all children in all families have access to the legal protections that civil marriage provides. Our country would be diminished if we enshrined discrimination in our Constitution and laws.”

Neas noted that the push for a constitutional amendment to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples picked up steam after the Supreme Court’s historic decision in June that gay people cannot be made criminals for their private consensual sexual conduct. In that decision, conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, expression, belief and certain intimate conduct.”

Neas said groups opposed to equality for gay and lesbian Americans quickly tried to shift public debate away from whether the government should be policing private consensual sex to whether it should be giving legal recognition to same-sex relationships. He said some political leaders have intentionally confused the issue by claiming falsely that granting the legal rights and responsibilities of civil marriage to same-sex couples would force religious communities to perform weddings against their will.

“Many churches oppose divorce and remarriage,” said Neas, “but they aren’t trying to make divorce or remarriage illegal. The government does not and cannot force any religious body to give its blessing to any marriage it opposes. The suggestion that moving toward equality under the law in any way infringes on the freedom of religious institutions to decide which relationships to bless is a deliberate falsehood meant to inflame, not to inform.”

People For the American Way Foundation supports full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, including the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. PFAWF filed amicus curiae briefs in the Lawrence case, which overturned laws that criminalized private consensual sexual activity, as well as in the suit that led to the recognition of civil unions in Vermont and the case now pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Court, in which same-sex couples have challenged the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages.

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