From the Right



When Clinton, Biden and Schumer Defended Marriage Against Ted Kennedy

Terence P. Jeffrey on

When Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts led the fight in 1996 to stop a federal law that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, he faced some prominent opponents in his own party.

They included then-Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York, then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and then-President Bill Clinton.

The marriage issue came up that year because of a case working its way through the state courts in Hawaii. The issue there was whether the Hawaiian constitution protected a right to same-sex marriage.

If Hawaii's Supreme Court were to rule that this was the case, the other 49 states could have been forced by Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution to recognize those marriages. That section says: "Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof."

To stop a few state judges from effectively legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia introduced the Defense of Marriage Act.

This bill was simple and straightforward. It would amend "the Federal judicial code to provide that no State, territory, or possession of the United States or Indian tribe shall be required to give effect to any marriage between persons of the same sex under the laws of any other such jurisdiction or to any right or claim arising from such relationship," said its official congressional summary.


It would establish, said the summary, "a Federal definition of: (1) 'marriage' as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife; and (2) 'spouse' as only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife."

On July 9, 1996, the House Judiciary Committee submitted its report on the Defense of Marriage Act to the full House.

"The effort to redefine 'marriage' to extend to homosexual couples is a truly radical proposal that would fundamentally alter the institution of marriage," said the committee's report. "To understand why marriage should be preserved in its current form, one need only ask why it is that society recognizes the institution of marriage and grants married persons preferred legal status."

"At bottom," said the report, "civil society has an interest in maintaining and protecting the institution of heterosexual marriage because it has a deep and abiding interest in encouraging responsible procreation and child-rearing.


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