Press Release
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
Wisconsin’s Second District

September 30, 2004

Statement of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
on H.J.Res. 106, the Marriage Protection Amendment

September 30, 2004

Mr. Speaker, amending the Constitution is a radical action that should only be undertaken when absolutely necessary. Preemptively amending the Constitution to prevent something that has not yet happened is a dangerous principle that this Congress should not endorse. We must always remember that, as President Calvin Coolidge put it, “the Constitution is the sole source and guaranty of national freedom.”

During our hearings in the Judiciary Committee, our expert witnesses, including the author of DOMA former Republican Representative Bob Barr, expressed their belief that DOMA is Constitutional.

The fundamental point I would make today is that there is no need to amend the federal Constitution to ban same sex marriage. There is no need to take away the power of the States to determine marriage law. There is no need to continue to attack the judicial branch of government.

Mr. Speaker, over the past year, we have seen a lively debate on marriage laws in states from Massachusetts, to California, and nearly every other state in between. The sky has not come crashing down despite the dire predictions. In each of these circumstances, the state courts and state legislatures have responded to bring about a public political debate and to address these issues in an orderly fashion.

One of the major arguments made by proponents of a federal amendment is the need to stop courts from making decisions that they disagree with. This proposed Amendment and numerous other proposals considered by this and past Congress are supposed to stop “activist judges.” I am unconvinced that there has been any abuse of judicial authority and certainly do not believe that there is a pattern of judicial abuse in our country at the state or federal level. Our three branches of government are carefully balanced to diffuse decision-making and provide checks and balances. The power of judicial review, solidly affirmed in Marbury v. Madison more than 200 years ago, was properly and wisely decided. It is nothing new for court decisions to be controversial. What is new is the idea that we would take power away from the courts through a Constitutional amendment, especially before the court even hears a case. Congress and the Executive branch have the Constitutional tools to respond to any results stemming from judicial review of their actions. A preemptive strike is unnecessary and unwise.

Mr. Speaker, our Constitution has been amended only seventeen times since the Bill of Rights. With the exception of Prohibition, which was promptly repealed, the amendments to the Constitution have always been used to secure greater rights and liberties for the American people. We have amended the Constitution to make our union more perfect, to ensure all Americans are free to secure the blessings of liberty, that all Americans may achieve the American Dream of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Never in our history have we used our most sacred governing document to deny rights to any group of Americans. Nor should we do so today!

This debate today is not simply a theoretical debate. It has a real impact on millions of Americans. I believe that the institution of marriage enhances our social fabric in many positive ways. I think we would all agree that a loving, supportive marriage provides a strong environment for raising our children.

Children with two parents, who are actively engaged in their lives, typically have greater financial and emotional stability during the time they grow up than those able to rely on only a single parent. Marriage’s role in protecting children is about providing sustenance, it is about teaching, it is about sharing culture and beliefs, it is about transmitting a family’s values, it is about providing love and emotional support. These are all important components of marriage that help families raise and protect children. And none are exclusive to a couple consisting of a man and a woman.

Marriage laws in the United States provide important rights and responsibilities, privileges and obligations. In each state, literally thousands of rights and responsibilities, privileges and obligations are conferred upon receipt of a state marriage license. Likewise, there are more than 1000 federal rights that benefit married persons, among them:

*The right to make decisions on a spouses's behalf in a medical emergency.
*The right to take up to 12 weeks of leave from work to care for a seriously ill spouse or parent of a spouse under the Family and Medical Leave.
*The right to petition for same-sex spouses to immigrate.
*The right to assume parenting rights and responsibilities when children are brought into a family through birth, adoption, surrogacy or other means.
*Family-related Social security benefits, income and estate tax benefits, disability benefits, family-related military and veterans benefits and other important benefits.
*The right to inherit property from a spouse in the absence of a will.
*The right to purchase continued health coverage for a spouse after the loss of a job.

When making this point, many times I have heard opponents say that these rights can be obtained in other ways besides marriage. Some of them can, at a cost and with enough legal help, but many cannot.

For example, when a married person becomes ill and needs care, he or she can take 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A same sex spouse cannot. When a married senior citizen needs Medicaid, his or her spouse can remain living in their home. A same sex partner would be forced to move out since Medicaid only permits married spouses to keep their home without becoming ineligible for benefits.

One of my constituents wrote to me in July. Linda and her partner have been together for 22 years. They have two boys aged 7 and 11. Linda told me of how appreciative she is of the wonderful life her family has in Wisconsin, but she expressed her fear that “this could come crashing down in a moment if either my partner or I would die, since we would not be eligible to receive ANY of the death benefits given to every married couple.” Linda and her family need and deserve to have the same protections that all married couples automatically enjoy.

I do want to return briefly to the role of marriage in protecting children, because contrary to the opponents of same sex marriage and civil unions, I believe this is a powerful argument in favor of marriage recognition of same sex relationships. There are over a million children being raised in gay and lesbian families in the United States. These children do not have the same legal protections that children of an opposite sex marriage couple have and their parents have significant increased financial burdens in providing for them.

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans have been at the center of a national debate for the past decade and more. Attitudes have changed dramatically as more and more Americans have discovered that some of their friends, neighbors, coworkers or family members are gay or lesbian and that they are just like other Americans—with the same hope and dreams, the same fears, and the same challenges. I believe our country has taken major steps forward toward the American ideal that all people are created equal.

Mr. Speaker, change is never easy. Some people push for change with all their might, while others struggle to maintain the status quo. Most of the others are somewhere in between, trying to apply their competing values to assess the merits of change. Our political leaders can try to facilitate this debate and discussion to work toward consensus, or they can exploit those tensions and fears to divide America.

I firmly believe that too many of our leaders have decided to use this issue to polarize American in order to win this election. This is wrong.

Today, we must reject this attempt to use the Constitution of the United States simply as a wedge issue to win an election.

Bringing this issue to the forefront now, five weeks before the election, with no chance to pass this in House, accomplishes only one thing. It distracts the American people from the urgent issues and immediate policy decisions that are at the heart of this election. Each hour this Congress spends on a Constitutional amendment that will divide America, we are not working to help the millions of un-employed and under-employed Americans. Each hour this Congress spends on a Constitutional amendment that will divide America, we are not working to provide necessary health care to the 45 million Americans who have no health insurance. Each hour this Congress spends on a Constitutional amendment that will divide America, we are not working to make our homeland safer. These must be our priorities, not writing discrimination into the Constitution.

I implore my colleagues to vote no.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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