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On Capitol Hill, several bishops join opposition to marriage amendment

By John Johnson
5/26/2006

ENS Photo by John Johnson
Bishop Larry Maze of Arkansas and retired New Jersey Bishop Joe Morris Doss joined clergy and religious leaders on Capitol Hill May 22 to speak against passage of the so-called “Federal Marriage Amendment” (FMA).   (ENS Photo by John Johnson)

 
[Episcopal News Service]  Bishop Larry Maze of Arkansas and retired New Jersey Bishop Joe Morris Doss, now living in Louisiana, joined a diverse spectrum of clergy and religious leaders on Capitol Hill May 22 to speak against passage of the so-called “Federal Marriage Amendment” (FMA).

The bishops are part of “Clergy for Fairness,” a coalition of religious leaders working to oppose passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage. The Senate is scheduled to debate the measure during the week of June 5.
 
Maze and Doss participated in a news conference and lobby day in Washington to express their opposition to the amendment and to ask their senators in Washington to oppose the proposal. Their participation was part of a full day of activities and a national petition effort organized by the Clergy for Fairness coalition.
 
“Marriage is a theological matter of first importance for the church,” Doss said during a press conference in the Dirksen Senate office building. “It raises some of the most fundamental, complex, and vexing issues of theology… Such issues demand the church’s most careful and profound deliberation, and that is to take place in our parishes, councils, seminaries, publications, and places of theological reflection. It is to take place within national and international units of each denomination and in ecumenical dialogue.
 
“Congress, on the other hand, is not the proper forum for this sort of study, debate, and decision-making [on marriage]. The state is not to dictate doctrine to the church, or pre-empt a lively and extensive debate by precipitously deciding it for us. The church must determine the meaning and the parameters of marriage for itself… An amendment to define matters of theological controversy would set a terrible Constitutional precedent, and those in the church who think that such an action would be helpful to their theological position should take warning about what may come eventually.”
 
More than 1,600 clergy from across the country have joined a national petition drive to urge senators to oppose the FMA, according to the coalition’s website http://www.clergyforfairness.org.

Their Open Letter to the U.S. Senate states in part, “We are concerned that the Marriage Protection Amendment would mark the first time in history that an amendment to the Constitution would restrict the civil rights of an entire group of Americans. Misusing our nation’s most cherished document for this purpose would tarnish our proud tradition of expanding citizens’ rights by Constitutional amendment, a tradition long supported by America’s faith communities. These concerns alone merit rejection of the Marriage Protection Amendment.”
 
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold is already on record about the amendment. In a statement made two years ago, Griswold said, "I am concerned about the advisability of a constitutional amendment being put forth for discussion at this time. Questions of sexuality are far from settled, and a constitutional amendment which was perceived as settling this matter might make it more difficult to engage in civil discourse around this topic.” (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_30106_ENG_HTM.htm)
 
According to a news release from Clergy for Fairness, “these faith leaders are united in the belief that religious liberty must be preserved and that discrimination should not be written into our Constitution. At a time when our country is facing critical issues, the U.S. Senate should not be focused on undercutting the separation of church and state and treating an entire group of Americans differently.
 
“They believe that people of faith and goodwill can and do disagree about what constitutes marriage, but that this amendment would endorse one religiously biased view over all others and impose it on all Americans by constitutional fiat.”

Proponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment (also known as the Federal Marriage Protection Act, S. J. 1) have introduced similar legislation in both houses of Congress in 2002, 2004 and at the beginning of the current session in 2005. Political analysts credit the timing of the debate and coinciding state ballot initiatives as part of an effort to influence electoral politics, as it did in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles.