Pro-family groups are seeking to bolster a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage by adding a provision that would also prohibit adultery. While the so-called "seventh commandment" has strong voter support, some legislators are wary of outlawing adultery, citing what they call the 'Glass House of Representatives' effect. In a related story, for some congresswomen, infidelity may be in the genes.
But some on Capital Hill are nervous about what the law could mean for them
By Deanna Swift
WASHINGTON, DC—When the 109th Congress convenes in the nation's capitol next month, legislators will have an awesome responsibility on their hands: defending the sanctity of marriage. Now, some pro-family groups are proposing that a constitutional amendment to protect marriage be strengthened further—by adding a provision that would ban adultery.
Their demand is simple: add two simple words to the proposed marriage amendment. "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 that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups—or adulterers."
The no-cheating rider is a 'no brainer,' say advocates, pointing out that adultery is blamed for 30% of divorces each year. But some members of congress say that banning adultery goes too far, while others are pushing a moral amnesty that would let previous offenders off the hook.
When members of a pro-family lobby group called Defend Our Marriages were looking to add anti-adultery language to the proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage, the office of Representative Dan Burton was one of their first stops. After all, the 11-term Indiana Republican has a long history of fighting for family values, and was a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment introduced last May.
But Burton balked when it came to backing the adultery provision. "We couldn't even get a meeting with him," said DOM member Sandy Slokum, noting that her group had chosen to approach Burton because of the 100% rating he'd received from the Christian Coalition. "His office basically slammed the door in our faces. Doesn't he believe in the seventh commandment?" said Slokum.
Perhaps not. In 1998, Burton was forced to admit to having had an adulterous affair in the 1980s, during which he fathered a son. Were the amendment banning both homosexual marriage and adultery to take effect, Burton would lose many of the privileges of marriage, including tax benefits, inheritance rights, even the ability to visit loved ones in the hospital.
Burton might even have to run for his congressional seat as a single man, not an easy task in era in which "single" is short-hand for homosexual, and single candidates are often derided as "limp wrists" and "switch hitters."
Glass Houses of Representatives
The nervousness over the proposed language addition extends far beyond Capitol Hill. As any student of American politics can explain, the process of amending the constitution only begins with Congress; once the bill has passed both houses, it goes on to the states. And while punishing homosexuals has proved politically popular this year, politicians at the state level are finding that the anti-adultery provisions cuts a bit close to the bone.
Georgia state senator Joey Brush was one of the strongest proponents of the state's constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage, but likely wouldn't fare so well were the federal amendment expanded to include adultery. The Republican senator was tarred with the brush of hypocrisy early this year when reports that he'd had two extramarital affairs—both with married women—while still married to the mother of his four children made their way into the press.
Political experts say that state legislators will ultimately determine if the bans on homosexual marriage and adultery are to be written into the constitution; three-fourths of the states must pass the amendment before it can be enacted. But that may prove difficult if constituents believe that their legislators are enacting one standard for themselves and a different one for everyone else. "These guys are already notorious for thinking that the law doesn't apply to them," said one long-time observer of the nation's political scene. "They run stop signs, they hire their friends and now they get to cheat and the rest of us can't? I don't think so."
Amnesty for adulterers
Some proponents of the anti-adultery measure say that support for the measure could be strengthened if an amnesty or grandfather clause were written into the law. In this case, congressmen who had committed adultery prior to the law's passage would still be allowed to keep their marriage rights, but would be subjected to the same punishment as homosexuals if they cheated on their wives or husbands after the constitution was amended.
DOM's Slokum says that she'd prefer not to have to water down the marriage protection amendment with a grandfather clause—but will embrace the change if it's necessary to get the measure passed.
"In Corinthians, when thieves, idolaters and swindlers came to Paul, he says to them, 'And that is what some of you were.' He didn't just save them, but delivered them from their sins. That's what we're trying to do for our Congressmen," says Slokum.
Deanna Swift can be reached at [email protected]