Statement of Ralph G. Neas on the House Constitution Subcommittee Hearing on the Federal Marriage Amendment

Today, Americans will witness the sad and sorry spectacle of right-wing legal and political activists urging Congress to reject strides toward equality and to pass a constitutional amendment that would require every state to treat some Americans as second-class citizens.

It is strangely fitting that this panel includes Robert Bork, the retired judge whose approach to our Constitution and laws was so extreme that hundreds of organizations and millions of Americans fought to keep him off the Supreme Court. His judicial philosophy was so troubling that a large bipartisan majority of U.S. Senators rejected his nomination. Since then, Bork has been writing angry books and articles that prove that if the Block Bork coalition was guilty of anything back then, it was understatement.

Thank heavens Robert Bork is not writing Supreme Court opinions. We know that if he were on the Court, constitutional protections for privacy and reproductive rights would be abolished, the First Amendment protections of free speech and religious liberty would be in tatters, and laws making criminals out of gay people would still be in place.

Just as a huge coalition of organizations and individuals representing a broad spectrum of Americans came together to keep an extremist like Bork off the Supreme Court, a broad coalition is coming together now to keep the Federal Marriage Amendment – which Bork helped to write – out of our Constitution.

The Constitution, the foundation of our freedom, is no place for an amendment that would not only stop progress toward equality, but would take away rights and legal protections that gay and lesbian couples and their families have worked so hard to achieve.

It is fitting, too, that the panel includes Jay Sekulow, who heads the legal group Pat Robertson founded to advance his vision of America – an America where women’s rights are subverted, where the power of the state is used to enforce Religious Right moral codes, where public education is converted to religious proselytizing, and where gay people are denied the basic dignity and equality to which all Americans are entitled.

Jay Sekulow is one of several Religious Right leaders who recently promised “not to engage in rhetoric that demeans others – either for their sexual orientation or for religious beliefs that might differ from ours.” But the ACLJ and its founder have a long history of offensive and demeaning rhetoric toward Americans, claiming for example that gay Americans are out to “destroy the family.” Just this week his mentor Pat Robertson said that progress toward equality for gay people was a “malignancy” that would destroy America.

And Representative Marilyn Musgrave seems to have devoted her congressional career to the misguided notion that a constitutional amendment requiring discrimination against same-sex couples is somehow going to protect and preserve American families. It is, I am sorry to say, an unhealthy obsession, one that is unseemly and divisive and bad for our country.

I am a husband and a father. I know that families face all kinds of stresses and challenges. But I can tell you that I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine how my marriage and my family would be harmed by allowing any of my gay and lesbian friends, neighbors and colleagues to marry the person they love, the person they have committed their lives to caring for.

Indeed, our country will be stronger when all children and parents in all families have access to the legal protections that civil marriage provides. Our country is diminished by the individuals and groups that are advocating that discrimination be enshrined in our Constitution and laws, and by the Bush administration’s willingness to seek short-term political gain by encouraging efforts that foment bigotry and division.

Let us also take note that this month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of two landmark Supreme Court decisions overturning systemic discrimination in our country. Brown v. Board of Education ruled that legal segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Hernandez v. Texas rejected policies that kept Latinos from serving on juries, noting that “the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws is not directed solely against discrimination between whites and Negroes.”

The basic principle at work in both these cases is also a fundamental American value – everyone deserves equal treatment under the law and discrimination is wrong. These values, and the Constitution that upholds them, would be disastrously damaged by the Federal Marriage Amendment. People For the American Way will continue to work with all our allies to build opposition to this attack on the American Way.

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