Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lugar Statement On Gay Marriage Debate

AI Editor Gary R. Welsh has sought in recent weeks to clarify Sen. Richard Lugar's position on the pending Family Marriage Amendment (FMA), which would write into the U.S. Constitution the right of states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, even if legally recognized in another state. Lugar's campaign manager Nick Weber shared with me a statement Sen. Lugar issued on July 14, 2004, when he voted for a cloture motion to end debate on the amendment so that an up or down vote on its passage could be taken. Nick wrote, "I think the best way to help make the Senator’s position more clear is to give you the entire statement he released the last time the cloture motion on this issue came before the Senate. From what I understand, the vote again will be purely procedural in nature when called down by the Majority Leader."

At the outset of the statement, Lugar makes clear that he supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the Senate in 1996, which more or less does what the FMA constitutionalizes. After a lengthy discussion, Lugar's concluding comments make it clear that he wants the Senate to vote on the amendment. He says, "[T]he definition of marriage and legal matters surrounding that definition are legitimate issues that likely will require examination by American society and our government." Lugar does not come out flatly for or against the amendment as I interpret his message; instead, he straddles the fence.

I think it is fair to conclude that he's confident the cloture vote will fail, and that there will be no up or down vote on the amendment this year. To be safe, he will appease the Christian right on the procedural cloture vote, knowing that he won't have to vote up or down on the issue before this year's election. Incidentally, as of today he is running unopposed for re-election. Democrats have not been able to find anyone willing to run against him.

The entire statement is provided below. If you disagree with my interpretation of the statement, please let me know by posting your comments. Sorry to say I told you so Chris Douglas.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar Releasing The Following Statement on 7/14/2004

The issue of gay marriage came to the United States Senate in 1996, and I voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act which passed the Senate by a vote of 85-14 and was signed into law by President Clinton. The law ensured that a State does not have to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned in another state. In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that gay couples have the right to marry in Massachusetts. Although sometimes in opposition to state law, gay couples in San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; and some municipalities in upstate New York have been given marriage licenses by local authorities.

Proponents of a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage argue that the Defense of Marriage Act and all other federal, state, and local laws banning gay marriage may soon be overturned by “activist” judges or various administrative officials at all levels including the United States Supreme Court. They argue that only the overwhelming pre-emptive strike of a Constitutional Amendment will constrain these judges and officials from creating a national situation in which large numbers of gay couples will seek and obtain marriage licenses, thus undermining the faith-based traditional concept that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Specifically, a Constitutional Amendment offered by Senator Allard is to be considered and voted on, promptly, to meet this suggested emergency. But a Constitutional Amendment requires a two-thirds majority of Senators present and voting, and proponents concede that such a majority will not be obtained in a vote this week. In fact, obtaining such a majority would require a strong attempt to gain bipartisan support after careful study of the best legal language. Such study should take account of many other issues, such as civil unions of gay couples and potential tax, property, and insurance benefits, which have been the subject of state and local consideration and action.

In fact, some proponents of the Constitutional Amendment demand that debate and voting should occur now because they wish to put Senators “on record” prior to Federal and State elections. They hope that Presidential and Congressional candidates might be boosted or hurt by such political polarization, perhaps not appreciating that establishment of such “records” may make efforts to achieve a constructive reconciliation on this issue more difficult in the future.

Strengthening of the institution of marriage might well start with recognition that close to half of all marriages between a man and a woman fail in our country with grievous costs to children, as well as those who attempt to provide a safety net to all parties involved. Congress has acted in bipartisan legislation to help to strengthen marriages and to strengthen families. A number of faith-based initiatives now before the Congress deserve closer and more vigorous attention.

In addition, Congress should watch carefully the progress of litigation and state and local legislation in reference to issues surrounding the gay-marriage debate. The Defense of Marriage Act passed with 85 votes. Bipartisan consensus is obtainable when it is sought after careful study of the wisdom of our course of action. The current Allard Amendment will fail because some members will not have confidence that it is the best formulation, even if we should see the necessity of amending the Constitution at this time.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has suggested that an amendment to be offered by Senator Gordon Smith should also be considered and voted upon. Other Senators have suggested that additional amendments and perfecting of Constitutional language should be permitted because Committee debate did not precede the Senate floor debate. Critics charge that a veritable Constitutional Convention is being proposed, but amending the Constitution is very serious business and the final product must be well understood and drafted to meet the myriad of unforeseen consequences.

I will vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the current debate, because the definition of marriage and legal matters surrounding that definition are legitimate issues that likely will require examination by American society and our government. But even as I recognize the importance of the arguments of those Senators who advocate pre-emptive action now, I would observe that their timing could polarize this issue when clearly a great deal more diplomacy and understanding must occur to achieve the super-majority vote that will be required if events cascade to produce the national chaos which proponents predict.


Jeff Newman said...

I posted to the GayIndy listserv a couple of times on this with regards to Lugar's vs. Bayh's position where I maybe gave a little bit too much of the benefit of the doubt to Lugar.

After reading your post, Gary, I'm not sure whether to retract or just point out the obvious, which is they are both straddling the same fence, just in different ways.

They don't have to be terribly concerned with said fence damaging their balls while straddling it, because neither of them have any balls in regards to taking a real position on this issue.

Chris Douglas said...

Well, I'm taking the bait, Gary. I'm not sure where we agree or disagree, so I'll clarify.

I expect that if the opponents to the FMA filibuster, Lugar will vote to end filibuster for three reasons.

First, his modus operendi is to oppose filibusters no matter his views on a topic. Live by filibuster and die by filibuster. It is the threat of the radical right in the senate to filibuster that effectively puts the end to any progressive legislation before it even starts, even with majority support. My understanding of Lugar's position on filibusters is that they empower one senator to thwart the will of the majority, which is presently a greater problem for moderates and progressives than for conservatives, who hold absolutely everything of any moderate majority value hostage.

Second, my understanding is that Lugar is not especially afraid of allowing the measure to progress to final consideration personally, because he doesn't feel the need to hide his position one way or the other in the final vote. (I paraphrased and linked his letter of 2004 in my post on Bilerico, and I continue to stand behind that post.)

Third, my understanding is that Lugar (as do all observers) observes that there are not enough votes in the senate to pass the amendment, even if filibuster is ended and it goes to the floor for final vote. (Informed observers tend not to include Lugar among those who support final passage of the FMA.) So closing filibuster and allowing a vote is not problematic for Lugar.

So to clarify my expectation: I expect Bayh to vote against cloture and Lugar to vote for cloture. If the vote is some other procedural vote that prevents the measure from reaching the floor, then I expect Bayh to support the procedural obstacle, and Lugar to oppose the procedural obstacle. If the vote is procedural and facilitates the measure reaching the floor, then I expect Bayh to vote against the procedural attempt to move the measure to the floor and Lugar to vote for the procedural attempt to move the measure to the floor.

(I expect Bayh's vote on any of the above to be popularly and accurately characterized as opposition to the FMA. I expect Lugar's vote on any of the above to be popularly and inaccurately characterized as support of the FMA. Lugar himself clearly did not wish his vote for cloture to be misunderstood as support for the FMA, which is why he published his letter detailing his reservations and skepticism about the FMA itself.)

If the vote is for final passage, I expect both Bayh and Lugar to vote against the FMA.

DOMA, in my opinion an unconstitutional measure, is very different from FMA. DOMA reserves to the states the power to define marriage without that definition being imposed by the actions of another state legislature or state judiciary. Under DOMA, state legislatures and judiciaries can proceed to the recognition of same-sex marriage and/or civil union, but without effect on other states. FMA prevents ALL states from recognizing same sex marriage and civil union, even when states move inevitably to do so.

A Senator can very plausibly have voted for DOMA and vote against FMA and be perfectly consistent. (I note this while also repeating that I do not defend Lugar's voting for DOMA or Clinton's signing it into law.)

Anonymous said...

Beside which...

Whenever DOMA is mentioned by a Republican it seems more likely than not that the statement will also end with the -- which Clinton signed into law -- reminder. Even if Clinton had vetoed DOMA isn't it true his veto would have been easily overridden?

Chris Douglas said...

It's a good point, anonymous. The reason I mention Clinton is that there is a tendancy to cut a moderate republican no slack when hardly any principled support for our (glbt people's) position existed on a topic on either side of the line.

And what was not politically possible in 1996, or what had no support at all in 1996, can develop support over time. That developing support can also cause a politician to rethink their own biases. And in our case, enough politicians in the course of 10 years can be startled to find a gay son, grandson, nephew, or staffer forcing them totally to rethink their sympathies.

Advance Indiana said...

Chris--you're a great guy, but as we used to say down on the farm, you're shoveling a lot of shit with that explanation.

Marla R. Stevens said...

Bottom line to all us civilly married queers who refuse to acquiesce to the government's coercion to lie to it about our marriages is that, without DOMA repeal, we're still felons. FMA, MPA, whatever -- in practical terms, it has little effect that DOMA does not.

They're all despicable but worse are those policians who know that and still will not stand for justice.