The fate of a controversial new amendment that could legally define marriage in Texas will be decided Nov. 8 in state elections.”Not only is it defining marriage, but it’s also foreclosing the possibility that there could ever be any legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships,” said Bayliss Camp, assistant professor of sociology.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, which swept through the Texas House 101-29 and the Senate 21-8, is now in the hands of the Texas voters. If passed, Texas would be among more than a dozen states to adopt a similar proposition into its constitution.
Camp said the widest margin of victory for a similar amendment was in Missouri, and the narrowest was in Oregon.
In Texas, however, the vote has generated a heated debate between outspoken supporters – including religious organizations and most recently the Ku Klux Klan – and critics, who also include religious organizations and groups focusing on gay rights.
Some critics wonder why Texas needs to adopt a definition of marriage into its constitution.
In 2003, legislators passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which already bans gay marriage in Texas.
Others say the amendment’s wording, especially in the second half, is overly broad and may affect both gay and straight couples alike, Camp said.
“The way it’s been phrased makes me turn my head a little,” he said. “I’m sort of troubled by (this amendment) because it strikes me that putting it into the Constitution shuts off that debate. Once it’s in the Constitution, it’s permanent.”
On the ballot, the amendment is worded: “The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”
In other states where a similar amendment has been passed, common-law marriages have been affected.
“In other states where this has passed because the language is pretty broad, it has meant that certain kinds of legal relationships that heterosexual couples take for granted were called into question,” Camp said.
In Ohio, for instance, a court interpreted a similar proposition to mean unmarried couples can no longer claim domestic violence-protected court orders because they aren’t legally married in the eyes of the state.
Proponents of the law say the debate over wording is designed to confuse people and draw support away from the amendment.
Stephanie Klick, Tarrant County Republican Party chairman, said the claims are “blatantly false.” She said she recently read Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion about the wording disputes, “and they’re not predicting anything of that sort.”
Although James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science, opposes the amendment, he said the attorney general may be right about the word choice not being too broad.
“The simple truth of the amendment is that it was intended to ban men from marrying men and women from marrying women,” he said. “That’s what it’s intended to do. That’s the simple truth of it regardless of how you might read the language of the amendment. I think it would probably be very clear, if the Supreme Court ever looked into the manner, that any discussion of banning marriage altogether would not be accepted because it was never part of the debate.”
He said he thinks it would just add into the constitution a law banning gay marriage.
Away from the technicalities of wording, a real impact of the amendment is focused on the civil rights of lesbians and gays living in Texas. As couples, they are trying to protect such things as the rights to make health care decisions for each other in crisis, share insurance policies and protect their property through inheritance if a partner were to die, said Christie Cozad Neuger, professor of pastoral theology and pastoral counseling at TCU’s Brite Divinity School, in an e-mail.
Proponents, however, claim the amendment is necessary to make sure that the Defense of Marriage Act can’t be challenged by the courts.
“This is just codifying into the state constitution what is already law in Texas,” Klick said. “It makes it more difficult for a court to strike down, but other than that, nothing has really changed.”
Neuger said supporters also would probably say the amendment is necessary for the sake of making a clear statement about what marriage is and isn’t. The amendment would also send a “message about important value systems that are under threat in our culture, namely the centrality of ‘traditional family,'” she said.
However, she said she is strongly opposed to the amendment.
“I believe that God loves diversity,” she said. “We see that in every dimension of God’s creation. I see no reason why sexual diversity wouldn’t also be part of God’s created order. As such, I want to do everything in my power to support people who seek to enter into committed and loving relationships with each other.
“There is significant evidence that the structure of marriage may well help couples to maintain committed relationships over time, both gay and straight, and it seems that our churches would be in favor of helping committed relationships of all kinds to flourish. I believe it’s ethically reprehensible to do anything that suggests gay and lesbian persons are less deserving of legal and social protections than any other person in Texas or anywhere else.”
Other religious professionals interpret gay marriage differently.
“The Bible teaches us about marriage. It’s between a man and a woman,” said Nate Bourman, the pastor at Abiding Faith Lutheran Church at 3409 Charleston Ave. in Fort Worth. He said gay marriage is a sin.
Bourman said he sent an e-mail to all the members of his congregation letting them know the issue is up for a vote. He is also teaching them what the Bible says about gay marriage.
“(Teaching about the issue) is a continually ongoing thing,” he said. “I have made our congregation aware of it. This may be a reason to go out and vote.”
However, he said whether or not the amendment passes isn’t going to affect him or his teaching of religion.
“It’s not going to affect the way I worship or I express (God’s) word,” Bourman said. “I just look at it as my job to inform or instruct. I’ll pass on the information that’s there.”
The amendment’s long-term impact is difficult to predict, Riddlesperger said.
“It is relatively easy to amend the state constitution,” he said. “It could be that if there came at a time where there became unpopular, as opposed to popular, the Constitution could be amended again.”
All it would take is a majority referendum vote to remove it from the constitution, he said.
If passed, Neuger said the amendment could have two major effects. The first being that it may draw people to Texas who think the state is supporting their moral stance on gay marriage. In that regard, it may attract people and new businesses to Texas, she said, though that impact would probably be minimal. However, she said, it would probably make it less likely that gay-friendly businesses would want to operate in Texas.
“I think it will also add to the polarization in this country – to pass an amendment like this to the constitution is a strong statement about who is welcome and who is not, who is legitimate and who is not, and those kinds of discriminatory messages tend to add fuel to the polarized political and social climate we’re in,” she said.
However, Neuger doesn’t foresee the amendment having any impact on the learning of religion or the day-to-day teaching of religion in Texas because people will still hold on to their moral and religious beliefs on the issue whether the amendment is passed.
“One impact that I hope it has is to make more visible that committed religious people of all religions and denominations have a variety of viewpoints about the validity of gay and lesbian partnerships – that there’s not just one religious viewpoint or one religious answer to the reality of homosexuality,” Neuger said. “I hope that the introduction of this amendment helps people to really reflect on the ethical dimensions of this question and to explore with integrity what our religious traditions might have to offer.”
Camp said Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been clear about his position on gay marriage.
Perry has been vocally supportive of the amendment and had an unrequired ceremonial signing of the amendment.
On Oct. 16, the editorial board for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram released its position against the amendment. It called Proposition 2 “an ugly amendment.”
“Voters should recall that Perry’s bill-signing ceremony was the occasion on which he suggested that gay and lesbian veterans should move somewhere else if they wish to get married, because Texas would never recognize same-sex unions,” the editorial read.
Perry recently traveled to Fort Worth, and during his visit he expressed his support of the bill.
“It’s pretty simple for me. … I’m a Christian, and this is about values,” the Associated Press quoted Perry as saying during his visit. “My beliefs are that a man and woman are what make up the meaning of marriage.