Marriage Amendment Violates Separation Of Church And State, Says Americans United

Religious Right Scheme Would Give Government Blessing To Marriage Rites Of Majority Faiths, But Make Others Illegal

A proposed "marriage amendment" to the U.S. Constitution would undercut religious liberty in America and write the Religious Right's views into law for everyone to follow, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution will hold a hearing May 13 on U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's Federal Marriage Amendment. Musgrave is scheduled to testify, along with failed Supreme Court candidate and Religious Right favorite Robert Bork and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the marriage amendment would give constitutional endorsement to some religious traditions while denying the free exercise rights of others.

"This unwise proposal would give a federal government blessing to the marriage rites of some religious communities and make the practices of other faiths illegal," Lynn charged. "That's totally unacceptable in a nation that respects religious pluralism and diversity."

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, many legal analysts say the language could 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.

"Bork, Sekulow and the religious movements they represent want the marriage practices of the majority faiths written into the Constitution," said Lynn. "The Religious Right wants to wed church and state. Members of Congress should say, 'I don't,' not 'I do.'"

The Americans United leader, who is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, said Bork and Sekulow have a well-documented and long-standing disregard for the rights of minorities.

"Robert Bork's views were so outside the judicial mainstream in 1987 that he was rejected by the Senate for a seat on the Supreme Court," said Lynn. "Incredibly, his positions have become more extreme since then and now reside firmly in the twilight zone of legal thought."

Lynn noted that Bork has a long track record of insensitivity. He cited a report Americans United issued in 1987, when Bork was nominated for the high court. The report recounted that in September of 1985, Bork spoke at a forum on church-state separation in Washington and advocated more religion in public schools. One attendee challenged Bork, telling a story about a Jewish boy who felt uncomfortable with Christian exercises at his school. Bork blithely replied, "So what? I'm sure he got over it."

In a speech delivered in November of 1984, Bork called for a "major recasting of doctrine" on church and state. He criticized Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a wall of separation between church and state, dismissing it as a non-compelling "individualistic view."

In more recent years, Bork has called for giving Congress the power to overturn Supreme Court rulings by vote, although he now claims he no longer supports this idea.

Lynn criticized Sekulow for using extreme rhetoric as well. ACLJ fund-raising letters signed by Sekulow have stated, "[T]he homosexual agenda [is] a runaway train bent on destroying communities," "The homosexual rights movement is engaged in a concerted effort to radically alter the definition of marriage, and thereby the family" and "Homosexuals are not only out of the closet, they are out to destroy the family as we know it."

Said Lynn, "When discussing gay people, Sekulow always reaches for the most lurid rhetoric possible. This type of language is clearly intended to inflame passions and spark hate. It has no place in civic or political dialogue."

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.