Less than two weeks after an Idaho group dropped efforts to put an anti-gay rights initiative on the ballot, North Idaho’s U.S. representative is pushing federal legislation to ban same-sex marriages.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Friday on the bill, labeled the “Defense of Marriage Act,” and cosponsored by Rep. Helen Chenoweth. The proposed law defines marriage as only a union between a man and a woman.
It also says states and Indian tribes aren’t required to recognize same-sex marriages, even if legalized in other states.
“Traditional marriage is the cornerstone of our civilization,” said Chenoweth.
“I believe it is essential that we not allow the institution to be undermined.”
The threat stems from the possibility that courts in Hawaii will legalize gay and lesbian unions. That would force other states to recognize same-sex marriages under provisions of the U.S. Constitution and make the definition of marriage so broad as to become meaningless, said Chenoweth, who is divorced.
Legalizing same-sex marriages “would open up a Pandora’s box to attaching special civil rights to a specific behavioral practice,” Chenoweth said. It also would create a multitude of problems with spousal benefits, insurance and financial institutions, she added.
Opponents of the “Defense of Marriage Act” say the measure is mislabeled and is driven by ultraconservatives who need to control people, not by understanding of family.
“It doesn’t defend marriage at all, it simply prohibits people of the same sex from having legal recognition for their caring relationship,” said MaryEvelyn Smith, chairwoman of Your Family, Friends and Neighbors, a gay-rights advocacy group.
“Love makes a family, not a law,” she said.
Allowing people of the same sex to marry doesn’t threaten heterosexual relationships any more than one couple divorcing means another couple they are friends with automatically will divorce, Smith said. Nor does it repeal laws saying one spouse can’t be compelled to testify against his or her partner.
Legalizing same-sex marriages would simplify questions of child custody and personal property because “there would be a basis in law for dissolution, for custody of children,” Smith said. Gay parents no longer would worry about losing their children in custody disputes just because of their sexual orientation, not because of their parenting skills.
Arguments about preserving the cultural fabric are absurd, Smith said. “It used to be women were the property of their husbands,” she said. “I wonder if they want to go back to that part of the culture? I suspect some of them might.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho “is leaning toward voting for it, based on what he’s said in the past,” said Mark Snider, Kempthorne’s press secretary. The senator wants to see the final bill before making a firm decision.
U.S. Sen. Larry Craig isn’t yet familiar with the specifics of the proposal, said his press secretary, Bryan Wilkes.
In March, the Idaho Legislature passed a measure saying it wouldn’t recognize same sex marriages, no matter where legalized. Gov. Phil Batt signed the new law.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Friday on the bill, labeled the “Defense of Marriage Act.”
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