Ga. conservative opposes amendment

Defense of Marriage Act author asks Congress not to change Constitution

March 31, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The conservative author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act urged Congress yesterday not to move forward with a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage as he and other conservatives predicted the current law would survive court challenges.

Ex-Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who was a moving force behind the law that allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere, said the proposed constitutional amendment would be an unwarranted intrusion in an area that has historically been left to the states.

"Changing the Constitution is just unnecessary, even after the Massachusetts decision, the San Francisco circus and the Oregon licenses," Barr said in testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

"We have a perfectly good law on the books that defends marriage on the federal level and protects states from having to dilute their definitions of marriage by recognizing other states' same-sex marriage licenses."

Barr agreed with conservative legal scholars that the measure, adopted with bipartisan support and signed by President Bill Clinton, could withstand inevitable court tests, though they cautioned that some judge could always overturn it.

Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, said the existing marriage law "is not constitutionally flawed" because it mainly sets out the doctrine that states cannot be forced to recognize public policy from other jurisdictions if it conflicts with the state's own laws.

The hearing is the first of five planned in the House to allow lawmakers to explore a constitutional amendment that President Bush and other advocates say is necessary in the wake of a Massachusetts court ruling in favor of gay marriage and decisions by local officials in several locations to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

House Republican leaders say they do not know whether or when they will bring an amendment to the floor, though the Senate appears on track to vote on the proposal this summer.

Democrats on the House panel joined colleagues in the Senate who have attacked the amendment as a divisive proposal seized on by Republicans to motivate conservative voters. They said an amendment would impose second-class status on gay and lesbian families.

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