NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Marriage, Civil Unions, Domestic Partners and Others

February 11, 2004

President Bush is expected to endorse a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman -- but not prevent state legislatures from allowing civil unions and same-sex partnerships like those in Vermont and California.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's (R-Colo.) proposal, the Federal Marriage Amendment, states: "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."

A competing proposal, says National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, would add a third sentence: "Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships."

This would prevent states from creating civil unions and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. It would require that any privileges extended to those groups also be available to others.

Say, for example, a state had made co-signing for loans a privilege of marriage:

  • The state legislature could decide, under the amendment, to extend that privilege to any two people who share a home: a lesbian couple, or an unmarried heterosexual couple, or two sisters who share the rent, or whoever.
  • The legislature could come up with a bundle of privileges formerly reserved to married couples -- bereavement leave, hospital-visitation rights, the ability to make joint adoptions, and so on -- and provide them more widely.

Such issues are important to two growing types of households -- single adults and unrelated, nonsexual household partners. Also, the language would not require the federal government to extend spousal benefits (such as for Social Security) to such groupings.

Source: Mike Allen and Alan Cooperman, "Bush Plans To Back Marriage Amendment," Washington Post, February 11, 2004; Ramesh Ponnuru, "Marriage Amendment Jitters," National Review, November 24, 2003.


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