Washington, D.C.--As the U.S. Senate prepares to make a proposed federal marriage ban amendment an issue in the 2006 elections, Ohio Senator Mike DeWine has honed his posture by becoming an amendment co-sponsor.
DeWine, a Republican first elected in 1994, has been on the record favoring the latest version of the amendment since it first appeared in January 2005, but has taken no formal supportive role.
That changed on March 30 when, according to DeWine’s spokesperson Mike Dawson, the senator decided to become a sponsor.
“There was no tipping point,” said Dawson, explaining that as a member of the Judiciary Committee which is hearing testimony on the proposal, DeWine thought this would be a good time to amplify his support.
“I agree that sponsorship is a higher level of support,” said Dawson, “but he’s always supported it. He just wanted to see what was going to happen in other states.”
Dawson said DeWine was “struck by rulings in several states” including Nebraska, where that state’s amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and “other similar same-sex relationships” was ruled unconstitutional.
Dawson was clear about his boss’ disdain for the court because “seventy percent of the people [of Nebraska] voted for it.”
In May, a federal district court ruled that Nebraska’s amendment violates of the U.S. Constitution because it tramples the Fourteenth Amendment and singles out a group of people for disparate treatment without a trial.
Dawson said that DeWine, an attorney and former prosecutor, is fearful that the Washington state supreme court will soon deliver “an adverse ruling” legalizing same-sex marriages.
“The rule of the people is being cut by judges,” said Dawson.
Unlike previous pronouncements on the issue, DeWine issued no press statement, instead delivering the message less formally to a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter on March 31.
Google searches of other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, including those who are already amendment sponsors, show that most have made similar statements to major home-state newspapers in the last two weeks.
Dawson said staff has been briefing DeWine on the amendment because it is “being marked up” by the committee.
Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said he will bring the amendment up for a floor vote in June.
However, Judiciary Committee staffers say the only matter now being considered by the committee is immigration. Discussion of the amendment does not appear on the committee’s public hearing calendar.
Unlike legislation, amendments cannot be altered by the committee. Doing that requires the introduction of a new amendment.
The proposed Marriage Protection Amendment reads, “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”
It is similar to the earlier Federal Marriage Amendment that was stopped by a 2004 Democratic filibuster.
In declaring his co-sponsorship, DeWine is the measure’s 29th co-sponsor. The previous one is Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who signed on last October just after an appearance with anti-gay Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell and anti-gay television pastor Rod Parsley. Brownback is considered a Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
Joining the two are the amendment’s lead sponsor, Wayne Allard of Colorado, and 26 other Republicans. There are no Democratic co-sponsors.
Ohio’s other senator, Republican George Voinovich, is not a co-sponsor.
DeWine is up for re-election this year.
Dawson pooh-poohed the suggestion that DeWine’s decision was made to gain electoral advantage. He pointed to DeWine’s 1996 vote for the federal “defense of marriage act” and his support of the 2004 amendment.
“He does what he thinks is right,” said Dawson.
Dawson said the difference between the earlier amendment and this one is “In 2004, there was no committee. The amendment came right to the floor.”
DeWine and the committee’s chair Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania were identified last year as possible opponents of the amendment because of their reluctance to publicly support it.
He was also heavily criticized by the anti-gay Republican base for not supporting the Ohio marriage ban amendment in 2004 and for not being out front on the federal action.
During the state campaign, he was careful to both oppose same-sex marriage and criticize the Ohio amendment’s vague second sentence, which has since been the source of a flurry of litigation.
DeWine faces primary challenges from Republicans William Pierce and David R. Smith, both of whom are attacking his “conservative” credentials. DeWine is expected to win the primary, but his overall approval ratings are the lowest they have been, around 40 percent.
Polls pitting DeWine against his Democratic opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown, show a tight race that either could narrowly win.
Phil Burress, who heads the group that passed the Ohio amendment and is a national Republican operative, told the Plain Dealer: “I think this will save him. I think this move right here, regardless of the reason, will send him back to Washington.”
“People do odd things when they are in a tough race,” said Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman.
Bowman called the amendment “piling on,” and accused DeWine and the other senators of disrespecting individual states’ right to decide whether or not to protect same-sex couples through marriage or other arrangements.
“You, sitting in Bucyrus [Ohio], have no right to make that decision for people in Massachusetts,” said Bowman.
“When are we going to stop using our community as a tool to move politicians forward?” Bowman said.
An Equality Ohio e-mail to its members has generated more than 1,300 individual messages to DeWine, which came at a rate of 2½ per minute for the first four hours.