WASHINGTON - The congressional sponsors of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage announced new wording yesterday aimed at building political support for the measure by easing concerns that it would block states from allowing civil unions of gay or lesbian couples.
Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, both Colorado Republicans, said they believed the rewording would "make it perfectly clear," despite language defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, that the amendment would leave states free to enact laws allowing civil unions or domestic benefits for gay couples.
The revision says: "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, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman." The phrase "nor state nor federal law," in the second sentence of the earlier version, was dropped.
Allard introduced the revised language yesterday in the Senate; Musgrave said she would introduce it in the House soon.
The change reflected the sponsors' efforts to deal with the substantial political obstacles awaiting the measure. After initially announcing their proposal, Allard and Musgrave found that they were running into opposition not only from liberals but from conservative supporters of states' rights.
Allard and Musgrave insisted yesterday that they were making only "technical changes" to the proposal, which has become a key social issue in the presidential election. President Bush is advocating for a constitutional change that he says is needed to defend traditional marriage, while Sen. John Kerry, the presumed Democratic nominee, opposes such action.
When asked whether he thought the new wording would garner more support for the amendment, Allard replied: "Yes, because it's clarifying, and it takes out ambiguity."
Critics argued that the amendment might restrict the states' right to enact civil unions or domestic partnerships.
"I think that we're going to continue to see scholars argue over what it means or doesn't mean," said Ron Schlittler, director of policy for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a lobbying group. "It is just still murky."
The lawmakers' announcement came on the eve of the Senate Judiciary Committee's first hearing on the proposal.
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