HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Our Sunday Visitor) -- The announcement in January by Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.) that the Senate will take up a constitutional amendment to defend traditional marriage in June is only the latest sign that the fight over marriage is expanding in the United States.
Campaigns to win legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages and efforts to counter them are now taking place against the background of proposals to legalize polygamy and "polyamory" relationships that involve three or more persons and any gender mix. Legalization of same-sex marriage is seen as a necessary step to that end.
Frist scheduled Senate debate on the Marriage Protection Amendment for the week of June 5. That will be almost two years after 50 Senate Democrats refused to halt a filibuster and let the amendment come to a vote. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), awaiting nomination by the Democrats as their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, skipped the vote.
Forty-eight Republicans voted to end the filibuster. A filibuster, requiring 60 votes to halt it, is likely when the amendment comes up again this year.
The Marriage Protection Amendment would define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. It has the support of President Bush and pro-family groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The decision to bring up the marriage amendment in the Senate has obvious political ramifications, coming in an election year. It obliges senators to go on record at least, to the extent of voting for or against a filibuster on a controversial issue many would prefer to duck.
It also focuses attention on the amendment itself. Supporters say it is the only sure way to defend the traditional definition of marriage against the continuing drive by civil libertarians and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered activists to broaden the definition to include more than one-man, one-woman unions.
Reflecting public concern at that prospect, state constitutional amendments defining marriage in traditional terms were approved by voters in all 11 states where they were on the ballot in the 2004 elections. Altogether, 19 such amendments have been enacted to date.
As many as 16 states may grapple with the issue this year. Efforts on behalf of state amendments upholding traditional marriage are under way in Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia, Arizona, Florida and Illinois. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a same-sex marriage bill passed by the state legislature last September.
Lawsuits by homosexuals intended to bring about recognition of same-sex unions are at various stages in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Washington state. A decision in the Washington case is said to be imminent and could support the homosexuals' side of the argument.
In a statement hailing the announcement that the Senate again would consider the Marriage Protection Amend-ment, Matt Daniels, president of a group called the Alliance for Marriage which supports the measure, said "fallout from an adverse ruling" in Washington would have "broad repercussions" because the state does not have a residency requirement for granting marriage licenses.
"Americans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, but they don't have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society," he said.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2003 held that same-sex couples have a right to marry there. Massachusetts is the only state with such a policy up to now. A drive is underway there to reverse it by amending the state constitution.
Congress in 1996 passed federal legislation called the Defense of Marriage Act and President Clinton signed it into law. The act bars federal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages and allows a state to refuse to recognize them if performed in another state.
Many observers believe the Defense of Marriage Act sooner or later will be challenged in a case before the Supreme Court. The outcome is impossible to predict.
Meanwhile, attention has begun to focus on a small but growing movement among legal theorists and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered groups on behalf of polygamy marriage of one man to two or more women -- and polyamory marriage of three or more persons of any gender to one another.
A much-discussed cover story by Stanley Kurtz in a December issue of the Weekly Standard cited the case of a man and two women in the Netherlands who last September entered into a government-approved "cohabitation contract."
Kurtz, a fellow at the public-policy think tank Hudson Institute and a writer on social issues, called this "an unmistakable step down the road to legalized group marriage" and pointed to evidence of support in U.S. legal and media circles.
Writing in the Feb. 3 issue of National Review Online, Kurtz said the ultimate aim is nothing less than the abolition of marriage. "Legalize gay marriage, followed by multi-partner marriage, and pretty soon the whole idea of marriage will be meaningless," he wrote.
As evidence of this trend, he cited a 2001 report by the Law Commission of Canada called "Beyond Conjugality." Canada in 2005 granted legal recognition to same-sex relationships as marriages, joining the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain as one of four countries which have done that to date.
What advocates of this new way of thinking want in the end, Kurtz maintained, is "an infinitely flexible relationship system that validates any conceivable family arrangement, regardless of the number or gender of partners."
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken frequently against the idea of same-sex marriage. Only in monogamous marriage between a man and a woman does human love "fulfill its deepest purpose," he declared in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), published in January.
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Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.
Republished with permission by Catholic Online from the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper (www.osv.com) in Huntington, Ind., a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.