CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS AND GAY MARRIAGE
By Doug DuBrin, an English and history teacher as well as an editor and writer
As Article V states, there are technically two ways to amend the Constitution. The first requires that both houses of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives) agree by a two-thirds vote on an amendment.
The next step is to have the proposed amendment ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures (or, in rare instances, by special state conventions).
The second method has never been utilized in the Constitution's history. It requires that two-thirds of the states call for a special constitutional convention during which the amendment is proposed. Three-fourths of the states must then ratify the amendment for it to become official.
amendments to the Constitution do not come easily. The 13th Amendment,
outlawing slavery, emerged from the ashes of the Civil War and was ratified
Dec. 18, 1865. The 19th Amendment (ratified Aug. 26, 1920) granted women
the right to vote after more than a century of lobbying and activism.
President Bush has publicly stated that he supports such an amendment.
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage to be a "legal union between one man and one woman." Many other political leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, have aligned themselves with both Presidents Bush and Clinton.
Several religious institutions, most recently the Catholic Church, have formally renounced the idea of same-sex marriage, referring to religious texts that define marriage as solely the union of a man and woman.
Supporters of gay marriage stress, though, that not only are they seeking to protect civil liberties (often citing the 14th Amendment), they are also seeking to protect their families; over a million children nationwide are currently in the care of homosexual parents.
The way the laws are currently written, gay parents in times of crisis (such as when a child is seriously sick or injured and must be hospitalized) are not afforded the same rights as married (or legally divorced) parents.
In Massachusetts, which recently ruled in favor of legalizing gay marriage, there is the prospect of an amendment to its own constitution that would grant gay couples some legal rights (in a civil union), but not those of a married couple.
If history is a guide, an actual amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage is unlikely. Nonetheless, the issue is bound to spark debate for some time, both within the courts and in the public.
2. Discuss both readings either as a class or in small groups.
3. Then have the students examine the 14th Amendment in order to answer the following questions:
4. Discuss the responses as a class.
Extension Activity I: Marriage as an institution
In order to have the students understand the institution of marriage on a deeper level, have them discuss:
Extension Activity II: News coverage of the issue
Have the students analyze the recent media coverage of the issue of gay marriage and respond to the following questions. The questions might be addressed in the form of an essay, through an oral presentation or by a graphic representation.
Extension Activity III: Amending the Bill of Rights
Assign the students to write their own amendments to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. In order to do so, they must first closely read the Bill of Rights (provided above) and decide which amendment they wish to modify.
Then, have them carefully compose a paragraph that: 1) directly addresses an issue in the amendment, and 2) offers specific modifications to the amendment. You may wish to use the following questions to guide the activity:
explanations, please consult
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