Americans United Criticizes Bush Endorsement Of Marriage Amendment

Watchdog Group Says Proposed Constitutional Change Threatens Religious Liberty, Individual Rights

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today criticized President George W. Bush for endorsing a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Bush asserted, "The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith....Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society."

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, "President Bush is just wrong. A growing number of religious groups perform marriages for same-sex couples. Bush's proposal gives some religious traditions favored treatment.

"The Federal Marriage Amendment is a grave mistake," Lynn continued. "The Constitution should protect the rights of all Americans; it should never be rewritten to take rights away.

"I do not want to see the legacy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison revised by President Bush under pressure from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell," Lynn concluded.

The Bush endorsement is widely seen as an election-year gambit to shore up support among the Religious Right, which has demanded that Bush do more to oppose efforts to legalize gay marriage.

In a recent letter to members of Congress (3.2MB PDF), Americans United warned that a proposed "Federal Marriage Amendment" would set a dangerous precedent by restricting individual rights. The measure (H.J. Res. 56), introduced by U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), would define marriage as consisting "only of the union of a man and a woman."

A Federal Marriage Amendment, the AU letter asserts, would harm religious liberty by writing the view of marriage favored by certain religious groups into constitutional law for all to follow. The letter notes that some religious denominations approve of same-sex unions and others do not.

"Far from protecting religion, the Federal Marriage Amendment would harm religion by expressing a preference for those religions that limit marriage to a man and woman and by relegating to second-class status the members of religions that have chosen to recognize same-sex unions," reads the AU letter. "Not only would the Amendment thereby contravene the longstanding Establishment Clause principle that government should not endorse some religious perspectives over others, but it would do so through a change to the Constitution itself, reflecting the government's greatest imprimatur and rendering this preference even more egregious."

Religious Right groups and their allies have been pushing for a marriage amendment in light of recent state court rulings requiring state governments to recognize gay marriages or civil unions. While religious groups have the right to advocate for the amendment, Americans United asserts in its letter to Congress that the drive is misguided because the amendment "would enshrine into the Constitution a particular religious viewpoint and would severely limit the religious liberty of millions of Americans."

Americans United's letter says the amendment is unnecessary as a protection of the free exercise of religion. Some amendment supporters contend that new constitutional language is necessary because the freedom of houses of worship to decide whom they will marry will be threatened if some states approve gay marriage.

The AU letter, sent to the House and Senate Feb. 5, refutes that claim. AU notes that the religious freedom provisions of the First Amendment bar "any court or legislature from requiring any religious institution or person to perform marriage ceremonies for anyone.  Indeed, the Free Exercise Clause protects houses of worship in their freedom to limit marriages on whatever theological grounds they choose.  Thus, a church may limit marriage to its own members, require marrying couples to promise to raise children in that faith, refuse to perform ceremonies for anyone who has been divorced, or impose other limitations based on that faith's tenets and beliefs."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.