Lesson Plan: Congress and Gay Marriage
U.S. Government, Civics, U.S. History, Leadership Studies
The objective of this lesson is two-fold. First is to educate students on the history of “gay marriage,” that is, how Congress has approached the debate over gay marriage and what legislation Congress members have passed or attempted to pass on this issue. The second is to have students discuss their feelings on this issue and have them attempt to understand how Congress members must balance their own personal views with those of their constituents and what might be best for the nation.
Step 1: Start lesson with a writing prompt on how the students feel about the idea of civil unions and gay marriage. Allow students to discuss the issue.
Step 2: Lecture on Vermont’s 2000 bill that legalized civil unions and the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in 2003 upholding gay marriage.
Step 3: Define the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section I) and the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Explain the connection between the two.
Step 4: If the students have Internet capability, have them visit two Web sites to show how states have reacted to the issue of gay marriage. Two suggestions follow:
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/righttomarry.htm — This Web site gives a brief history of the conflict over the Right to Marriage Acts and shows what states have reacted to civil unions and gay marriage.
http://www.domawatch.org – This site is designed to inform legislators and attorneys about current laws and litigation involving the Defense of Marriage Acts and has a map showing what states have enacted and what states have not enacted DOMA.
Step 5: After discussing and researching Full Faith and Credit Clause and the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, inform students that in 2004 Congress proposed The Marriage Protection Amendment, but it has not yet been passed in either House.
Share the following Web site with the students:
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=sj109-1 – This Web site shows the last action on the amendment and how legislators voted.
Step 6: Lead the students in a discussion on whether or not Congress should pass this amendment. In the open discussion have students think about what role officials play in making decisions on issues (delegates and trustees). Expand the discussion to the issue of Federalism and states’ rights in deciding this issue.
A nice extension is to have students research what type of interest groups have lined up on this issue. Have students write a short essay on the role of interest groups, the tactics they use, and the power they have to influence Congress on such issues like gay marriage.
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