House Votes against Gay Marriages `Very Foundation of Our Society at Risk,' Gop Sponsor Maintains

Article excerpt

The House voted overwhelmingly Friday to define marriage in federal law as a legal union of one man and one woman - no matter what states may say.

The "Defense of Marriage Act" would underline federal refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, keeping gay couples ineligible for spousal benefits under Social Security, Medicare or other programs.

The bill was passed, 342-67, after two days of noisy and highly personal debate. All members of the Missouri and southern Illinois delegations voted for the measure, except Rep. William L. Clay, D-Mo., who did not vote.

Although the vote was lopsided, it took place only after a bitter debate in which the Republican sponsor spoke of "the very foundation of our society being at risk" while some Democrats accused the GOP of stirring up a divisive issue to help Bob Dole's presidential campaign.

President Bill Clinton will sign the bill if the Senate passes it, although he, too, believes it is politically motivated, said Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman.

"I think, in fact, it is gay baiting, pure and simple," McCurry said.

Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., said, "This will prevent or stop nothing, but it does effectively divide people in America."

Republican supporters, on the other hand, said the measure was needed on both moral and legal grounds.

"The flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundations of our society, the family unit," said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., the bill's sponsor.

The federal government traditionally leaves regulation of marriage to the states, but supporters said the legislation was needed to head off the possible results of a gay-rights court case that could lead Hawaii to legalize gay marriage.

If that happens, the Constitution may require other states to recognize gay marriages performed in Hawaii, they said. Conservatives said a single panel of judges in Hawaii should not be allowed to decide whether the whole country accepts same-sex marriages.

Under the bill, states would be free to legalize gay marriages within their own boundaries, but other states would have authority to refuse to honor them.

"The vote today reflects exactly what the people of this country feel, and that is, America is not ready to change its definition of marriage, America is not ready to change the concept of marriage," Barr said. …