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Four Reasons to Support Gay Marriage and Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment

Opinion / Editorial

By

Lesbian couple smile at each other during wedding ceremony
Rob Melnychuk/Digital Vision/Getty Images
June 1, 2006

I - The Proposed Federal Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage Does Nothing to Protect Heterosexual Marriage

A) It Stands No Serious Chance of Becoming Law

Although the debate over same-sex marriage is a real one, the debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment is political theater. The FMA has never generated enough support to pass Congress by the adequate two-thirds margin, much less enough support to produce ratification by the necessary three-quarters of the states. It is strictly an election year ploy--which is why it only seems to come up for a vote during an election year.

In 2004, during the height of the anti-same-sex marriage movement, conservative leaders in the the U.S. House of Representatives were only able to generate 227 votes (out of 435 representatives) in favor of the amendment. They needed 290.

In the Senate, a majority voted (50-48) not to even bring the amendment up for a vote. Had they done so, supporters of the bill would have had to wrangle up 67 votes in support. Even if we could assume that all 48 senators who voted to bring the amendment up for a vote would have supported it, that would still leave conservatives 19 senators shy of a two-thirds majority.

So in order for the amendment to even pass Congress, a bare minimum of 63 incumbent representatives and 19 incumbent senators would need to be defeated very soon, all of them replaced by conservative supporters of the FMA. Since a considerable majority of anti-FMA representatives and senators hail from liberal districts (which is what makes it politically safe for them to oppose the bill in the first place), the odds that they would all be replaced by conservatives are negligible.

Don't even get me started on how difficult it would be to get the amendment ratified by three-quarters of the states. The bottom line: the Federal Marriage Amendment won't actually become law, and everybody in Washington knows it.

B) It Represents a Dying Movement

Here's a pop quiz: What do John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Chuck Hagel have in common?
  1. They're all Republicans.
  2. They're all frontrunners for a major-party 2008 presidential nomination.
  3. They all oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment.
  4. All of the above.
I decided to begin this article with two hard truths. The first is that the Federal Marriage Amendment won't pass. The second is that this is probably the last time it will even come up for a vote. Most of the viable 2008 Republican presidential candidates, and all of the viable 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, have already stated strong and unambiguous opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment.

So that's the good news. The better news is the polling data. But before we look at the United States, let's look at Canada.

In June 1996, Canada's largest polling firm (Angus Reid) and its largest news organization (Southam News) conducted a major nationwide poll on the issue of same-sex marriage. What they found was that 49% of Canadians supported same-sex marriage, 47% opposed it, and 4% were undecided. In 1999, Canadian House of Commons declared (216-55) that marriage was between a man and a woman, and that same-sex marriage was invalid.

Then, as regional courts began to find same-sex marriage legal in specific provinces in 2003, public opinion shifted. In June 2005, parliament--affected, no doubt, by shifting public opinion--voted (158-133 in the case of the House, 43-12 in the case of the Senate) to make same-sex marriage legal throughout Canada. By the time Canadians were polled in January 2006, public opinion reflected almost universal support for same-sex marriage. So what does this mean? It means that political measures can temporarily affect popular support for same-sex marriage--but that the more people see of same-sex marriage in practice, the less likely they are to see it as a threat.

This pattern is beginning to manifest itself in the United States. In December 2004, Pew Research conducted a poll finding that 61% of Americans opposed gay marriage. When they conducted the same poll in March 2006, the number had dropped to 51%.

And even Americans who oppose same-sex marriage don't necessarily support a constitutional ban. In a May 2006 poll, only 33% of Americans supported the federal gay marriage ban, with 49% specifically opposing it (holding the view that marriage should be a state issue) and 18% undecided.

Public Opinion Regarding Gay Marriage in Canada
DateSupportOppose
June 199649%47%
June 199953%44%
December 200040%44%
June 200246%44%
August 200346%46%
October 200454%43%
November 200566%32%
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