'federal Marriage Amendment' Threatens Religious Freedom, Americans United Tells Senate

Proposed Constitutional Change Would Write Religious Right View Of Marriage Into Constitutional Law, Says Watchdog Group

The proposed "Federal Marriage Amendment" would threaten religious freedom by elevating the view of marriage favored by some faith groups into constitutional law, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the Senate.

In a letter today, Americans United urged senators to oppose the constitutional amendment and to reject efforts to bring the proposal to the Senate floor. The church-state watchdog group said the amendment would "set a dangerous precedent by restricting instead of expanding individual rights" and also show "a fundamental disregard for the religious liberty protections embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Americans United notes that some religious groups support same-sex marriage while others oppose it. According to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, the practical effect of the amendment would be to give constitutional endorsement to some religious traditions while denying the free exercise rights of others.

"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," asserts the letter. 

Lynn said the amendment's broad language limiting marriage to unions of one man and one woman would effectively prefer majority religions over others. At the same time, he noted, some legal analysts say the language could even make it illegal for denominations that perform same-sex marriages to continue to do so. The amendment says nothing about limiting its mandate to government authorities, and many fear its sweeping provisions would apply to church officials as well.

The amendment has been the source of constant political wrangling in recent days. GOP leaders in the Senate considered pulling the amendment (S.J. Res. 40) and replacing it with different language. Several media outlets have noted that the Republican leadership clearly does not have the votes to pass the measure.

"Even bringing this amendment up for a vote has been incredibly divisive," said Lynn. "I shudder to think what would happen if it were actually enacted."

Lynn asserted that the amendment would not be on the Senate agenda were it not for pressure from Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

"This is what happens when political leaders rush to do the bidding of the Religious Right," Lynn said. "We get floor votes designed to score political points, not advance sound policy. The Senate should move on to more important matters instead of trying to curry favor with religious extremists."

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.

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.