Springfield State Journal Register

February 28, 2004

Washington conflicted over same-sex marriage


WASHINGTON - President Bush's proposal for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages has left Illinois lawmakers as divided as the rest of Americans.

While most members of the Illinois congressional delegation oppose same-sex marriage, even some Republicans have reservations about fiddling with the U.S. Constitution.

"Much as I believe that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman, I'm not convinced at this time that a constitutional amendment is necessary," said Republican Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale. "Laws governing marriage traditionally have been left to the states, which is where I think they belong. Nothing related to marriage - not even the prohibition on bigamy or polygamy - is mentioned in the Constitution."

Biggert, a former real estate lawyer and state representative, tends to be liberal on social issues.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, who is less so, said he believes individual states are best suited to make decisions on whether gays should marry. The recent ruling by Massachusetts' highest court requiring that state to recognize gay marriages indicates a constitutional change may be the only means of protecting the sanctity of marriage, Johnson said, but "it is my sincere hope that such an action would be the last resort."

As a group, Illinois lawmakers usually split on major national issues in a predictably partisan manner. This is the rare issue where some Democrats and Republicans may find themselves on the same side.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, who voted with Democratic leaders 96 percent of the time in 2003, hasn't yet decided whether he would vote for a constitutional amendment, spokesman Steve Vetzner said.

But conservative Democrat Jerry Costello of Belleville is firm in his support of such an amendment.

Even liberal Democrats such as Rep. Danny Davis of Chicago acknowledged mixed feelings on this particular issue.

"I don't think a constitutional amendment is necessary. I think it's sufficient to let the states handle that," said Davis, but he admits he isn't sure he personally approves of same-sex marriages.

Many Democrats and gay-rights activists have accused Bush of pandering to his conservative followers by making the announcement just as he started his re-election campaign.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who opposes same-sex marriage, said Bush's announcement "made one thing clear - we should pass a law banning constitutional amendments in an election year."

Durbin said members of Congress should think "long and hard" before allowing the federal government to pre-empt states' authority to establish standards for marriage.

But Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, said he would vote for a constitutional amendment "because I feel strongly that marriage is the foundation of our society and our country and without good, strong families our country wouldn't be the great country that it is."

LaHood said the issue is one that will drive people to the polls.

"It's an issue that people feel strongly on both sides, and some people will make their decision on who they are going to vote for on it," LaHood said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, is in no hurry to call for a vote on the issue.

Although he supports the constitutional amendment, Hastert believes "it's going to be a very hard road," spokesman John Feehery said. "He thinks we have to be very careful on how we proceed. He wants to make sure we all agree on a single approach. It's not on the fast track, but it is on the radar screen."

Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Chicago, compared the Bush proposal to earlier GOP attempts to pass amendments to ban flag burning and to allow organized prayer in schools.

"They know they won't succeed but use them to motivate and galvanize their voters," said Jackson, who opposes the measure.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, another opponent, said Bush's proposal is aimed at deflecting voters' attention from "his failed economic and international record."

To be added to the Constitution, a proposed amendment must win two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and be ratified by three-quarters, or 38, of the states.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he opposes same-sex marriage but said he doesn't see the need for a change in the Constitution. Illinois state law prohibits same-sex marriage. He does support pending state legislation that would protect individuals against discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Reps. Philip Crane, R-Wauconda, Henry Hyde, R-Wood Dale, and Donald Manzullo, R-Egan, are co-sponsors of the so-called Federal Marriage Act, a House resolution authored by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., that calls for amending the Constitution by banning same-sex marriage. Supporters say it would allow states to decide whether to allow civil unions. But others argue it would block most, if not all, civil unions.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., has co-sponsored a similar Senate bill.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, also supports passage of a constitutional amendment, calling it "an extraordinary step but one that has been prompted by activist judges abusing the power of their positions to legislate."

Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, said he will have to see the language of such an amendment before he decides, but his spokesman, Ben Fallon, noted Weller voted for the Defense of Marriage Act that was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The law prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, is firmly against a constitutional amendment, spokesman Scott Frotman said. He views same-sex marriages as a civil rights issue, Frotman said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago, said he opposes the amendment.

"If you want to protect marriage, read your vows," he said. "Republicans want to privatize things except for people's lives."

Three Illinois lawmakers declined to give their positions: Reps. William Lipinski and Bobby Rush, both Democrats from Chicago, and Mark Kirk, R-Wilmette.