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  • Sasha Issenberg

May 15, 2002: Federal Marriage Amendment introduced in House


The first bill to write an amendment into the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage was introduced in the House of Representatives.

The proposed amendment was the handiwork of three conservative legal scholars, Hadley Arkes, Robert George and Mary Ann Glendon, who had all previously worked on drafting anti-abortion laws. Along with retired judge (and famously failed Supreme Court nominee) Robert Bork, they produced two sentences of legislation that they believed would block judges from mandating states legalize same-sex marriage but parallel institutions like civil unions, as well:

“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require the marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

The political push behind the Federal Marriage Amendment, as it was known, was led by the Alliance for Marriage, the right’s first national single-issue advocacy organization dedicated to fighting same-sex marriage. The group’s founder, Matt Daniels, had worked assiduously to build a coalition broader than the largely evangelical religious right which had been the face of anti-gay politics in Washington over the previous two decades. One of Daniels’s biggest successes came in recruiting a Democrat, Mississippi’s Ronnie Shows, to introduce the amendment in the House of Representatives.

The Federal Marriage Amendment failed to gain any traction until the threat of legalized gay marriage became more urgent with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s November 2003 decision in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health. By then, the proposal’s broad sweep was its own problem: conservatives could not agree on whether to push for language that would ban recognition of any kind of same-sex union or stick to a narrower amendment that would simply prohibit judges from reading a right to same-sex marriage in either a state or federal constitution.


The Engagement:
America's Quarter-Century
Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage

​By Sasha Issenberg

The riveting story of the battles over gay marriage
in the United States – the most important
civil-rights breakthrough of the new millennium.
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