WASHINGTON - With the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee set to hear testimony on the state of marriage laws, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that the hearing served as a guise to push a constitutional amendment that, besides limiting marriage to a man and a woman, could forever deny protections to same-sex couples.

The ACLU also noted that the measure as written is fundamentally at odds with basic principles of federalism and state authority, which has made the amendment a wedge issue even among conservatives.

"The Constitution is not a prop that should be used to score political points," said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "Recently, thousands of gays and lesbians demonstrated in favor of receiving the same protections enjoyed by other Americans. This extreme measure says that the commitment made by gays and lesbians is invalid - worse still, this nuclear bomb of anti-gay attacks would lead to a dismantling of a wide range of protections that state and local governments have given to gay and lesbian Americans."

Before the Senate subcommittee hearing, the ACLU joined with several other organizations to hold a news conference denouncing the marriage amendment, where several gay and lesbian families and a retired navy officer spoke. The ACLU noted that gay and lesbian families - already denied equal protection - would be irrevocably harmed if the marriage amendment were to be adopted.

The debate over denying marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples has escalated following the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that gay and lesbian couples cannot be denied the same rights enjoyed by straight married couples, and the city of San Francisco's issuance of marriage licenses to over 3,000 gay and lesbian couples. Last week, President Bush publicly announced his support for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

In Congress, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) have introduced such an amendment, which would also deny all the "legal incidents" of marriage to any unmarried couple, including straight relationships. While proponents of the measure claim that state legislatures could still recognize same-sex relationships through civil unions or domestic partnerships, the ACLU and other organizations stated that the broad language of the amendment would deny marriage rights for anyone other than those in a straight marriage.

The amendment would also take the extremely rare - and inevitably disastrous - step of changing the Constitution to restrict rights, a purpose that its framers never intended. The last time the Constitution was changed to constrain Americans' liberties - with the 18th Amendment's prohibition on alcohol use - the move was an unqualified failure that had to be repealed.

The proposed amendment lacks across the board support from conservatives. Former member of Congress Bob Barr (R-GA), who opposes legal recognition of homosexual marriages, stated in reaction to the Massachusetts ruling that he, "does not support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage," preferring instead to, "leave the decision to the citizens of each state." Barr was the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which allows individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed by other states.

"The promise of the Constitution is equality, and these measures would forever deface that great document," Anders said. "Gays and lesbians are part of American society who serve as law enforcement officers, politicians, and in the military. To alter the founding document of our nation to forever deny the rights that the rest of the country enjoys is mean-spirited and misguided."

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

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