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Agenda of Hate
by Edward M. (Ted) Kenedy, U.S. Senator
May 18, 2006

It’s no wonder that polls these days show public support for the Republican Senate is in the ditch. Instead of dealing with the real challenges facing the nation, the Republican Leadership insists on pandering to its far-right wing by this misguided proposal to deny some members of our society the right to marry and receive the same benefits and protections that married couples now have.

This so-called Federal Marriage Amendment should really be called the Republican Right Wing Anti-Marriage Amendment. A vote for it is a vote against civil unions, domestic partnerships, and other efforts by states to treat gays and lesbians fairly under the law. It’s a vote to impose discrimination on all 50 states, and deny them their right to interpret their own state constitutions and state laws. A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry -- pure and simple. It makes no sense for the first time in our history, to amend the Constitution by writing discrimination back into it.

The proposed Amendment is inconsistent with our basic values. The Constitution is the foundation of our democracy and the enduring principles of our nation. We’ve amended the Constitution only seventeen times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Aside from the Amendment on Prohibition, which was quickly recognized as a mistake and repealed thirteen years later, the Constitution has only been amended to expand and protect people’s rights, not to take away or restrict those rights.

Across the country, more and more children have same-sex parents. It is wrong for Congress to add another burden to these families struggling to live their lives and take care of each other. Citizens in this country believe in tearing down the walls of discrimination. We should be expanding protections, not creating new barriers for civil rights.

Gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights as married couples under state law, including the right to be treated fairly by the tax laws, to share insurance coverage, to visit loved ones in the hospital, and to have health benefits, family leave benefits, and the many other benefits that automatically flow from marriage. In fact, there are more than a thousand federal rights and benefits based on marriage and all families deserve equality.

Clearly, there is no need to amend the U.S. Constitution on this issue. Each state should be allowed to decide the issue for itself. Marriage and other issues of family law have always been matters of state sovereignty.

For two centuries, laws on marriage have been for each state to resolve, and are solidly rooted in the enduring principles of federalism. The states are already engaged in vigorous debates about the issue. Across the country, Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin are all holding statewide referendums on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage this year.

The American Bar Association opposes this Senate Amendment. As the ABA has clearly stated, “Congress should not rush to judgment and use the constitutional amendment process to impose on the states a rigid viewpoint regarding a controversial issue of great consequence to this nation.”

Marriage is a solemn commitment to plan a future together, to share in life’s celebrations, to be a source of comfort to ease life’s burdens and pains. These are real families with real-life struggles, and the Senate should reject any effort to undermine the progress we’ve made.

I’m proud that Massachusetts continues to be a leader on marriage equality for our citizens. We recognize that being part of a family is a basic right, and I look forward to the day when every state accepts this basic principle of fairness.

In upholding same-sex marriage, our Supreme Judicial Court interpreted the Massachusetts Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution. Nearly 7,000 same-sex couples have married in the state in the past two years. Those who oppose gay marriage and disagree with what happened in Massachusetts have a First Amendment right to express their views. But there’s no justification for undermining the separation of church and state in our society, or to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of the amendment claim that religious freedom is somehow under attack. But no court, no state, no Congress can tell any church or religious group how to conduct its affairs. The separation of church and state under the First Amendment is not affected in any way by what Massachusetts and other states are doing.

The law of each state is what determines the legal and civil effects of marriages and civil unions. The law of each church is what determines the religious aspects of a sacramental marriage. No church in Massachusetts has been required to do anything it doesn’t wish to do. The true threat to religious freedom is this Anti-Marriage Amendment itself — it tells churches that they cannot recognize a same-sex marriage, even though many churches are now choosing to do so.

The Senate should be addressing the real problems facing our country. Instead of writing bigotry and prejudice into the Constitution, we should be dealing with the issues of war and peace, jobs and the economy, the crisis over energy, and the many other priorities facing the country. It’s wrong for the Republican leadership to try to write its agenda of hate into the Constitution. I urge the committee to oppose this disgraceful and unseemly amendment.

Statement by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Resolution
Amending the U.S. Constitution to Ban Same-sex Marriage
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