A bipartisan group of House members has proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment that would constitutionally limit the definition of matrimony to that of husband and wife.
The amendment, introduced Wednesday by three Republicans and three Democrats reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution nor 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."
Currently, only the state of Vermont recognizes same-sex unions, though several other states allow gay and lesbian couples to be covered by their partners' health insurance. Another provision in the amendment does allow states to determine whether they want to allow civil unions or domestic partnerships.
"Gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, but they don't have a right to redefine marriage for our entire country," said Matt Daniels, executive director of the Alliance for Marriage, which supports the amendment.
Proponents say the constitutional amendment would reaffirm what most Americans believe about the sanctity of marriage and would stop individuals and activist groups from going through the courts instead of state legislatures to secure legal rulings that benefit homosexual or unmarried couples.
"I believe the Federal Marriage Amendment is a reasonable and measured response to an ongoing and accelerated abuse of power by the American courts," said Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., a sponsor of the measure.
Groups opposing the measure call it "bigoted," and say it targets gay and lesbian couples for discrimination. Opponents also claim that the amendment is being used as a political weapon during a mid-term election cycle that otherwise has few distinctions to it. They vow to fight it.
"This amendment is the legal equivalent of the nuclear bomb," said Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It would wipe out every last protection there is for gay and lesbian families and other unmarried couples."
"The U.S. Constitution is a revered document and it should not be used for cynical election-year posturing," said David Smith, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign.
The amendment has little chance of becoming the law of the land merely because of the obstacles a measure must overcome to change the Constitution. The Federal Marriage Amendment has to get the approval of two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and then be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures.
Only 27 amendments have been made law in the past 200 years.