WASHINGTON - July 21 - Members of Congress should reject a "court-stripping" bill intended to shield a federal marriage law from constitutional challenges, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the "Marriage Protection Act" (H.R.3313) on Thursday. The proposal, introduced by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over challenges to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law passed in 1996 that defines marriage as the union of a man and woman.
"The Religious Right and their allies in Congress have failed to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment, so they're trying this outrageous stunt," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Denying Americans the right to bring constitutional questions before the courts strikes at the very heart of our system of government.
"If this bill passes, members of Congress will think they can overturn any federal court decision they don't like," Lynn continued. "Church-state separation and other vital protections in the Bill of Rights will be jeopardized."
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R.3313 for a full House vote. In a letter to committee members, Lynn wrote that the bill is "an extreme, unwise, and unconstitutional proposal that would undermine the crucial separation of powers at the heart of our government, as well as thwart the independence of federal courts."
In addition to defining marriage, DOMA holds that states are not bound to recognize same-sex marriages that might be legally recognized in other states, which some legal scholars say contravenes the Constitution's "Full Faith and Credit" clause. The Full Faith Credit Clause of Article IV of the Constitution holds that laws and other actions of one state shall be recognized in other states.
Lynn said the success of H.R.3313 could pave the way for a slew of other bills currently floating in Congress aimed at stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction over religious liberty cases, such as those involving school prayer or government displays of the Ten Commandments.
"Religious Right forces are hostile to the independence of federal courts and apparently are bent on writing the federal courts out of our system of government," Lynn said. "They must not be allowed to succeed."