Do We Need A Federal Marriage Amendment?

Posted: Jul 18, 2001 12:00 AM
Do we need a constitutional amendment protecting marriage? Walter Faunteroy, the great civil rights leader and president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable, thinks so.

At a press conference held last week, the Rev. Faunteroy dramatically threw his support for the classic understanding of marriage as a sexual rather than a unisex union. He "enthusiastically" joined the "nonpartisan research and education organization," the Alliance for Marriage (, in "promoting marriage," "addressing the crisis of fatherless families," and supporting a Federal Marriage Amendment, which reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. "

"Since I left the White House with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on July 2, 1964, upon the signing by President Lyndon Baines Johnson of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we in the African American community have experienced a 400 percent increase in children being reared in fatherless families. In 1964, 25 percent of African American children were born out of wedlock. Today it is up to 80 percent of our children being born out of wedlock and reared in households without the presence of both of their parents."

What does this have to do with gay marriage? By ripping marriage out of its sexual roots, gay marriage would redefine marriage for everyone in ways that are profoundly destructive to the process of social recovery Faunteroy seeks. Ideas have consequences. When a court orders gay marriage (which gay activist Evan Wolfson predicts will be in less than five years), then the law will announce that procreation is not any part of the public purpose of marriage, that children do not need mothers and fathers, and that men and women do not need each other. Various institutions, including your child's school, will be turned into mandatory carriers of this new ideology.

Is opposing this trend gay-bashing? Faunteroy does not think so: "I respect the right of any and every citizen to enter binding contracts with one another that are upheld by the courts of law in this country. Every gay or lesbian citizen has that right now, but that right, in my view, does not extend to redefining the institution of marriage for the purpose of legalizing a lifestyle that one has chosen."

Gay activists argue that those of us who oppose unisex marriage (the majority of Americans) are hate-mongers and bigots, like segregationists in the old South. One reporter at the press conference asked, "How can you engage in such a hateful attack on gays and lesbians?" The ACLU declared the amendment "the legal equivalent of a nuclear bomb. It will wipe out every single law protecting gay and lesbian families and other unmarried couples."

Of course, the Federal Marriage Amendment does no such thing. Legislatures or private corporations would still be free to extend benefits to unmarried couples or others if they chose (a fact creating opposition to the FMA among some right-wing religious groups). The only thing this carefully drawn, measured, centrist amendment would do is forbid judges from mistaking our 5,000-year-old shared understanding of marriage as the union of male and female for a violation of human rights of people who choose alternate arrangements.

The need for such an amendment became dramatically clear in the aftermath of the New York Court of Appeals' recent, extraordinary, tyrannical decision that Yeshiva University, a private, religious institution, cannot reserve its married student housing for married students without violating New York City's ban on discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation."

Is this tolerance? Is this live and let live? Or is this effort to use the courts to impose gay marriage a systematic, brutal, mean-spirited attempt by powerful elites to stigmatize and silence the majority of Americans and endanger our most basic institution? Let the debate begin.