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News - June 1996

ACLU Questions Federal Anti-Gay Marriage Bill

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union questioned a bill introduced May 8 that would ban marriages between lesbian and gay couples, saying that Congress is inappropriately intruding on a state issue.

"This is an issue that should be left for the states to decide," said Alexander Robinson, a legislative representative in the ACLU's Nation Washington Office responsible for lesbian and gay issues. "Congress has never been involved in granting marriage licenses. So why are some members of Congress getting involved now?"

The legislation by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) seeks to deny recognition of future marriages between same-sex couples by defining marriage in federal law as a "legal union between one man and one woman." The bill would also grant states the authority to reject the legality of same-sex marriages performed in any other state.

The latter provision "raises serious constitutional concerns under the Full Faith and Credit Clause," said Marc E. Elovitz, staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. The clause guarantees that the rights of people in one state, including marriage rights, should be honored by the other states.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in May 1993 that the denial of marriage licenses to three lesbian and gay couples may be discriminatory under the state's Constitution guaranteeing equal rights. The Justices sent the case back to the lower court, saying that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples can be justified only if the state can prove a "compelling government interest."

The case will go to trial in August later this year and a final decision from the Hawaii Supreme Court is not expected until 1997.

The bill, entitled the "Defense of Marriage Act," was drafted with the help of radical conservative groups and is being co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

"It is ironic that this bill, which involves the Congress in quintessential state issues, should be introduced at a time when some are calling for less, rather than more, federal involvement in state affairs," said Robinson.


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