By Matthew Hawkins & Andrew T. Walker
WASHINGTON (BP) — Federal legislation to protect state authority in crafting state marriage policy has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Randy Weber, R.-Texas.
The proposed legislation would mandate that the federal government recognize marriages based on where a couple resides, not where their wedding was performed or celebrated.
The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 (H.R. 3829) seeks to clarify state authority in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer.
In the DOMA decision, the Supreme Court addressed the following situation: Edith Windsor was considered “married” to her lesbian partner in her state of residence, New York, and filed taxes accordingly. But the couple’s “marriage” was not recognized for tax purposes by the federal government. Edith Windsor sued the federal government on the grounds that the “death tax” on her deceased partner’s estate was discriminatory against her as both the heir and spouse, and the court ultimately sided with Windsor.
Weber’s bill, filed Jan. 9, would require the federal government to levy taxes based on the marriage law of New York, which happens to recognize same-sex marriage, but not permit federal agencies to presume same-sex marriage upon states where it is not recognized. While striking down section three of DOMA, the Windsor decision did not create a definition of marriage for the federal government.
In the fallout from Windsor, the question of whether the federal government would recognize same-sex marriage was resolved, but the question remains unanswered concerning the federal government’s jurisdiction on how it would recognize same-sex marriage and the larger question of state authority in making marriage policy.
In the absence of federal definition, many people believe that a state’s definition should be the basis for assigning federal benefits.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted, “Our country and our courts will soon experience a chaotic clash of marriage laws and regulations. At this time, the federal government is not capable of responding to the situation developing in the states. The Weber bill will provide crucial guidance to policymakers and agencies at the federal level as states and concerned citizens attempt to navigate the crumbling landscape of marriage in the country.”
Weber, in a prepared statement on the rationale for his bill, said, “The 10th Amendment was established to protect state sovereignty and individual rights from being seized by the Federal Government. For too long, however, the Federal Government has slowly been eroding state’s rights by promulgating rules and regulations through federal agencies.
“I drafted the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 to help restore the 10th Amendment, affirm the authority of states to define and regulate marriage, as well as provide clarity to federal agencies seeking to determine who qualifies as a spouse for the purpose of federal law. By requiring that the Federal Government defer to the laws of a person’s state of legal residence in determining marital status, we can protect states’ constitutionally established powers from the arbitrary overreach of unelected bureaucrats.”
Key parts of Weber’s bill read:
— “Congress recognizes that current actions by the Federal Government to afford benefits to certain relationships not recognized as marriages by a person’s State of residence go beyond the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor. These Federal actions create ‘two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State,’ in direct contradiction of United States v. Windsor.”
— “Actions taken by the Federal Government to grant recognition of marital status for persons not recognized as married in their State of domicile undermine a State’s legitimate authority to define marriage for its residents.”
— “… as applied with respect to individuals domiciled in a State or in any other territory or possession of the United States the term ‘marriage’ shall not include any relationship which that State, territory, or possession does not recognize as a marriage, and the term ‘spouse’ shall not include an individual who is a party to a relationship that is not recognized as a marriage by that State ”
Nearly a decade ago, the ERLC called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. At the time, various policymakers claimed the proposed amendment was unnecessary and contrary to principles of federalism. Today, 18 states have implemented same-sex “marriage” and Weber and the bill’s co-sponsors are now forced to rely on the same principles of federalism to defend against the federal government’s encroachment into the nature of marriage.
In addition to Weber, eight Southern Baptist are among the 27 original sponsors of the proposed this legislation: James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mike Conaway, Louie Gohmert, Bill Flores and Randy Neugebauer of Texas; Daniel Webster of Florida; and John Fleming of Louisiana.
Weber encourages citizens in other congressional districts who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, as well as citizens who wish to defend the right of their state to define marriage policy, to ask their representatives to join in cosponsoring H.R. 3829, The State Marriage Defense Act. The text of the proposed legislation can be accessed here.
Matthew Hawkins is the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s coalition director; Andrew T. Walker is the ERLC’s director of policy studies. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).