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Confused conservatives: the GOP can't seem to make up its mind about the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and that, in the end, might be what kills the idea.

George Allen is no friend of same-sex couples or gay rights. As Virginia governor in 1996, he backed regulations denying state-financed mortgages to people not part of a legally defined "family," including gay couples (rescinded only this July by successors). And in 2000 he sailed to election as a U.S. senator in part by bailing incumbent Chuck Robb, a stalwart gay rights advocate, for voting "like he's from Vermont," a thinly veiled reference to that state's civil unions law. During his stint in Congress so far, Allen has refused to support a single binding gay rights measure.

Yet Allen, chairman of the powerful National Republican Senatorial Committee, has been reluctant to sign on to the proposed "federal marriage amendment," which would add a ban on same-sex marriage to the U.S. Constitution. Citing the language of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which says that marriage is defined as being between a man and woman only, he told Virginia's Richmond Times-Dispatch, that "we will consider a number of options to preserve the traditional institution of marriage." The Defense of Marriage Act itself "allows states to reject marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples in other states.

Were Allen to decline to support the constitutional amendment altogether, it would be a critical blow to the measure's supporters, who already face daunting odds. Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, but backers of the amendment must win two thirds of the vote in each house of Congress--67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House of Representatives--as well as majority support in three quarters of the state legislatures.

Allen's cautious approach is just one of several potential weaknesses, both ideological and political, that gay activists will try to exploit in their efforts to derail the antigay amendment, which would make equal marriage rights out of reach for at least another generation.

Given the depth of opposition to same-sex marriage, pro-gay "opponents [of the amendment] can't just take a single approach," says Karlyn Bowman a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank that in May published a report on American attitudes toward same-sex relationships. "They are going to have to play on every, single argument in the conservative movement in order to derail this amendment. You can't just target one group; you have to try to make a dent in all of them. This will help run out the clock, historically the best way to defeat amendments."

That's exactly what Charles Francis, chairman of the gay-straight political alliance Republican Unity Coalition, hopes will happen. "Them are all kinds of fault lines out there," Francis says about the disagreement among conservatives. "There are those who are against gay marriage but also against the amendment. There are those who are opposed to marriage but in favor of civil unions and against the amendment. We will make the case to anyone who'll listen."

Perhaps the most potent argument against the amendment is the long-term political ramifications of a nationwide antigay campaign that the amendment battle is likely to become. "Passing this amendment would be a disaster of epic proportions for the GOP," Francis says. "It would do for the support of gays in the party what the support for [California's 1994 anti-illegal immigrant ballot measure] did for Latinos in the party. It would be the end. It would be permanently associated with discrimination. Amending the Constitution should not simply be about the latest flip-flop on a social issues."

Cracks in the right wing's support for the amendment are already starting to show. Perhaps the most prominent is the states' rights case advanced by Bob Barr, the former Georgia congressman and author of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In an interview in the September 16 issue of The Advocate, Barr said, "I hold the Constitutional in highest regard and I don't like to see it trifled with.... Even though I'm not an advocate for same-sex marriage, I want the states to decide the issue."

Those sentiment don't sit well with Barr's former allies within the religious right. But they are hardly the only conservative arguments with which the far right must grapple. Others take exception to amending the Constitution at all. Writing in the September 2 Washington Times, conservative lawyer Bruce Fein argued, "The amendment would enervate self-goverment, confound the cultural sacralization of traditional marriage and child-rearing, and clutter the Constitution with a nonessential."

Even religious conservatives, the most fervent opponents of same-sex marriage, appear to lack unanimity. Concerned Women for America, a leading religious conservative group, released a statement opposing the amendment because it does not go far enough. "It would not prevent state legislatures from recognizing and benefiting civil unions and other such relationships, which would result in legalized counterfeit marriage," the group complained.

Such objections across the ideological spectrum have left the amendment's supporters grasping for a compromise. Glenn T. Stanton, senior analyst for marriage and sexuality at Focus on the Family, a religious right group that endorses the amendment, insists that the visceral reaction to the very notion of same-sex marriage will eventually unite the opposition. "We think we have to take a pragmatic approach," he says. "Those among us who don't support [the federal marriage amendment] are upset that it doesn't do everything, that it doesn't solve the problem of the erosion of marriage in one fell swoop. We see it as simply a check on judicial activism and keeping judges from redefining marriage."

Stanton is counting on a spike in what he sees as a growing backlash to federal and state court decisions siding with same-sex couples. Indeed, the Massachusetts supreme judicial court is expected to OK same-sex marriage in the state sometime this year. "What, amazes me is how much the poll numbers jumped in our direction" after Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws, Stanton says. "Imagine the kind of lift our side will get when the Massachusetts court does what everyone knows liberal Massachusetts courts do.

"We are going to see a huge groundswell. No amount of division supporters of gay marriage manage to create will stop this thing."


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Title Annotation:Marriage
Author:Bull, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 14, 2003
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