Rep. John Lewis Statement on the "Defense of Marriage Act"
CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, 104th CONGRESS
DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT (House of Representatives - July 11, 1996)
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank my friend and colleague
for yielding me the time.
Let me say to the gentleman that when I was growing up in the south during
the 1940s and the 1950s, the great majority of the people in that region
believed that black people should not be able to enter places of public
accommodation, and they felt that black people should not be able to
register to vote, and many people felt that was right but that was wrong. I
think as politicians, as elected officials, we should not only follow but
we must lead, lead our districts, not put our fingers into the wind to see
which way the air is blowing but be leaders.
[Right. You're a leader when the majority disagree with you.]
Mr. Chairman, this is a mean bill. It is cruel. This bill seeks to divide
our nation, turn Americans against Americans, sow the seeds of fear, hatred
and intolerance. Let us remember the Preamble of the Declaration of
Independence: We hold these truths self-evident that all people are endowed
by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
[Ah. People who attempt to uphold a sanction rooted in their holiest
texts are mean. Cruel even. And all the people who back it are trying to
Because they hate them.
Naturally, they're intolerant.
Mr. Lewis, on the other hand, is merely a very good judge of character.]
This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence. It
denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Marriage is a basic human right. You cannot tell people they cannot fall in
love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say when people talked about
interracial marriage and I quote, "Races do not fall in love and get
married. Individuals fall in love and get married."
[Can single people sue over their status? Once marriage is a right,
I mean. Also, it doesn't take much effort to conceive of a lot of things
in which some people think they find happiness that we would just as soon
prevent. Abortion is one. Various criminal (for the moment) preferences
also suggest themselves.]
Why do you not want your fellow men and women, your fellow Americans to be
happy? Why do you attack them? Why do you want to destroy the love they
hold in their hearts? Why do you want to crush their hopes, their dreams,
their longings, their aspirations?
[The man is obviously of limited imagination (or charity) if he cannot
see any motive in his opponents other than hate, intolerance, etc.]
We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get
married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They
have done no wrong.
I will not turn my back on another American. I will not oppress my fellow
human being. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination
based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on
Mr. Chairman, I have known racism. I have known bigotry. This bill stinks
of the same fear, hatred and intolerance. It should not be called the
Defense of Marriage Act. It should be called the defense of mean-spirited
[Ditto the lack of charity comment.]
I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill, to have the courage to do what is
right. This bill appeals to our worst fears and emotions. It encourages
hatred of our fellow Americans for political advantage. Every word, every
purpose, every message is wrong. It is not the right thing to do, to divide
We are moving toward the 21st century. Let us come together and create one
nation, one people, one family, one house, the American house, the American
family, the American nation.
[Being a politician and having to spout stuff like this really
seems like a lame occupation. Is this what passes for reasoned discourse
on the floor of one of our deliberative bodies? I'm glad I don't have a