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What is the Marriage Amendment?

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  • Written By: Sherry Holetzky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2017
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Not to be confused with the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, the Federal Marriage Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. The Marriage Amendment is intended to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, as a matter of Constitutional law. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) did in fact create a federal definition of marriage with similar wording.

However, activist judges in Massachusetts and officials in San Francisco, California and certain counties in other states decided that marriage licenses could nonetheless be issued to same sex couples. Due to such activities in spite of clear legal definitions, centuries of jurisprudence and voter referendums, many believed that the only option was a federal ban on gay marriage. Marriage advocates, lawmakers and the President of the United States once again turned to the Marriage Amendment in an effort to protect the well-established definition. They haven’t gotten much traction due to the language in the second clause, which some believe would also disallow civil unions and life partner benefits.

Some people see same sex marriage as an equal rights issue. They believe that the Marriage Amendment should be regarded as discrimination. They feel that same sex couplings should be recognized as marriages and that same sex partners are entitled to the same benefits married couples enjoy. Arguments against this position often include the fact that the government may “discriminate” in certain cases and that same sex couples simply are not eligible for marriage benefits, just as some citizens are not eligible for other types of benefits. These and similar arguments are generally intended to be legal in nature rather than an attempt to determine the morality or lack thereof of the gay lifestyle.

Many who support traditional marriage believe that a marriage amendment is necessary because the language embraced would preclude state or federal courts and state laws, lawmakers, and constitutions from disregarding the federal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The argument against this position is that the Constitution is meant to protect rights, not to disallow them. To counter this opinion, marriage proponents claim that a marriage amendment would protect their rights, and that same sex marriage advocates do not have the right to redefine a long held tradition that is often referred to as the cornerstone of civilized society. These and similar arguments lean toward making a moral determination as well as establishing whether or not same sex marriage is beneficial to society.

The Marriage Amendment in its current form, or any form, will continue to be a hot-button issue, argued passionately on both sides of the spectrum. The Marriage Amendment has seen action in Congress on several occasions but has yet to pass. Apparently, America is not ready either for the Marriage Amendment or for same sex marriage across the board. Perhaps defining marriage should simply be left to the states, as the Tenth Amendment recommends regarding all powers not specifically granted to the federal government by the Constitution.

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