The push by conservative Congressmembers and right-wing political activists to amend the U.S.
Constitution to permanently ban same-sex marriage—and perhaps civil unions and domestic
partnerships—could inspire a burst of gay activism that rivals such gay milestones as Stonewall and ACT UP,
activists and commentators say.
'They'd better think long and hard before they push this because they're
going to have a war on their hands,' Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner told The New York Times.
'A real movement for an amendment will electrify this community and bring about an entire new generation of
dissent and civil disobedience.'
'The fight against the Federal Marriage Amendment, as this ugly piece of
work is nicknamed, is the Gettysburg of the gay-rights movement,' declares syndicated commentator Ann
Rostow. 'It's all or nothing. Because, if the right to marry is preempted by this constitutional travesty, our life
partnerships will remain second-class, morally suspect, extra-legal, unrecognized and unequal for the
The version of the amendment that has been introduced in Congress reads: 'Marriage
in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the
constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal
incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.'
The phrase 'the legal incidents
thereof' leads some observers to fear the amendment could not only ban same-sex marriage but may be
interpreted by courts as interfering with civil-union and domestic-partnership laws as well. Other observers,
however, say the use of the word 'require' leaves states free to extend spousal rights to same-sex couples
although they can't be required by a constitution or law to do so.
Amending the U.S. Constitution is
difficult. It requires a two-thirds yes vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and ratification by at
least 38 state legislatures.
But uncertainly over whether antigay forces could scale those hurdles, activists
say, is no reason to ignore the threat—because the consequences of the amendment's passage could be
'The right says that our LGBT movement is engaged in a war to bring down Judeo-Christian
civilization,' says National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. 'I agree with Tony
Kushner that they are the ones imposing war on us, and the Constitutional amendment is the line in the sand.
If that gets crossed, there will be people getting arrested in the offices of the people who are supporting this
amendment. There will be marches in the streets. We will be calling these people the bigots that they are.
'To date there has been no political consequence to elected officials getting behind this heinous piece of
legislation but once this thing actually starts moving, we definitely have it in us to make this ugly. I, for one, will
be right there. The Task Force will be right there.'
Foreman says the amendment drive will only take off if
George W. Bush explicitly pushes it.
'It will not go unless Bush pulls the trigger,' he said. 'And George
Bush will pull the trigger if they determine it will help him solidify his base and provide a useful wedge. It's
impossible to predict. What I do know for sure is that this is being focus-grouped to death to determine how the
president can use it for his own reelection needs.'
Foreman believes that if Bush pulls the trigger, the
amendment 'will certainly pass the House of Representatives and come very close to passage in the
'We need to lobby our members of Congress,' he said. 'We need to speak candidly to our
families and friends and associates and ask them to contact their elected representatives. What the organized
movement can do is work much better together and drop our institutional egos to confront and defeat the
challenges that are cropping up all over the country.'
Lawyer Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom
To Marry, is among the activists who feel the amendment also imperils domestic-partnership and civil-union
'The amendment is written to put a thumb on the scale against any measure of protection for gay
families or unmarried non-gay people's families, and the groups that are circulating this attack on the
Constitution have a clear track record of saying one thing and then doing another when it comes to their antigay
agenda,' Wolfson said. 'California provides dramatic evidence. When pushing the Knight Initiative, [antigay
activists] claimed it was just to bar marriage not domestic partnership. Now, these same groups are in court in
California seeking to overturn AB205 which [expanded the spousal rights available to registered partners] but
does not provide for marriage.'
Wolfson says the gay movement faces three key tasks.
'First, we must
secure the civil-marriage licenses we have won in Massachusetts,' he said. 'We need to get resources there
to support the groups, beginning with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, to fight the politicians who are
not following the law. Second, we need to repel attacks, including the [federal] Constitutional amendment;
other hateful, discriminatory attacks in Congress; and attacks in state legislatures. Third, we need to enlist
more voices into this public debate. As the middle moves toward us, they need to hear more diverse
messengers delivering the message of marriage equality.'
Individual gays and lesbians can make all the
difference, Wolfson says.
'Ask others to speak out against discrimination, to understand what's at stake in
the marriage movement, to not let their silence be construed as support for discrimination,' he said. 'Each one
of us needs to ask our nearest and dearest to learn why this is important to us personally, why discrimination
is wrong for families and the country, and to understand how we're under attack and need their help. Begin
with families, friends and coworkers and really have the conversation. Then, pick your favorite organization that
is working on this and get involved. FreedomToMarry.org lists all the organizations working on this around the
Wolfson says the gay community can beat back the Constitutional amendment 'if we mobilize and
'We have to avoid panic but also complacency,' he said. 'We need to seize this opportunity to have
a very important discussion with America—because we're winning that discussion.'
Jon Davidson, senior
counsel at Lambda Legal, agrees with Wolfson that the Constitutional amendment, as currently written,
endangers domestic-partnership statutes of all sorts.
'It's definitely a threat to civil-union laws and to
domestic-partnership laws and to other laws that provide protections to same-sex couples and their families,'
Davidson said. 'The second sentence will nullify civil-unions laws. You wouldn't be able to use the civil-unions
law in Vermont, for example, to require that you be given whatever spousal rights might be in question. It
doesn't prohibit a state from voluntarily giving benefits, but anybody who doesn't want to do it voluntarily doesn't
have to. Legislatures couldn't require that the benefits be granted.'
Davidson also agrees that Bush's
full-on support is essential if the amendment is to have a chance of passage, and he, too, says gays and
lesbians must contact their elected representatives.
'It is really important that members of Congress and
state legislatures hear that this is as unacceptable of a thing as could possibly be done against the gay
community, and that everybody who votes for this will never get a gay person's vote or a cent of their money
ever again regardless of what else they do,' he said.
'The idea that we would amend the guiding
document of our government to make gay people permanently unequal cannot be defended on any