Call for a Constitutional
Amendment Regarding Marriage
February 24, 2004
Good morning. Eight years
ago, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the
Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for purposes
of federal law as the legal union between one man and one
woman as husband and wife.
The Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote
of 342 to 67, and the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14. Those
congressional votes and the passage of similar defensive
marriage laws in 38 states express an overwhelming consensus
in our country for protecting the institution of marriage.
In recent months, however, some activist judges and local
officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage.
In Massachusetts, four judges on the highest court have
indicated they will order the issuance of marriage licenses
to applicants of the same gender in May of this year. In
San Francisco, city officials have issued thousands of
marriage licenses to people of the same gender, contrary
to the California family code. That code, which clearly
defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, was
approved overwhelmingly by the voters of California. A
county in New Mexico has also issued marriage licenses
to applicants of the same gender. And unless action is
taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more
litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials,
all of which adds to uncertainty.
After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence,
and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local
authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental
institution of civilization. Their actions have created
confusion on an issue that requires clarity.
On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people
must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with
one recourse. If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage
from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional
amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and
democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine
marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences
throughout the country.
The Constitution says that full faith and credit shall
be given in each state to the public acts and records and
judicial proceedings of every other state. Those who want
to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this
provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex
marriages performed anywhere in America. Congress attempted
to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act,
by declaring that no state must accept another state's
definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously
defend this act of Congress.
Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage
Act will not, itself, be struck down by activist courts.
In that event, every state would be forced to recognize
any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in
San Francisco choose to call a marriage. Furthermore, even
if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does
not protect marriage within any state or city.
For all these reasons, the Defense of Marriage requires
a constitutional amendment. An amendment to the Constitution
is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process
has addressed many serious matters of national concern.
And the preservation of marriage rises to this level of
national importance. The union of a man and woman is the
most enduring human institution, honoring -- honored and
encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith.
Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment
of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another
promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.
Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious
and natural roots without weakening the good influence
of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage,
serves the interests of all. Today I call upon the Congress
to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification,
an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting
marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife.
The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving
the state legislatures free to make their own choices in
defining legal arrangements other than marriage.
America is a free society, which limits the role of government
in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom,
however, does not require the redefinition of one of our
most basic social institutions. Our government should respect
every person, and protect the institution of marriage.
There is no contradiction between these responsibilities.
We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner
worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.
In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions
with kindness and goodwill and decency.
Thank you very much.
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