Never Tested Path To U.S. Constitutional Amendments On Same-Sex Marriage And Abortion Falls Short

Feb 20, 2017

File photo. State. Senator Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) with former State Representative Anne Clemmer testifying to a committee in 2013.
Credit Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

A push to call for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage and abortion rights narrowly failed in the Arkansas Senate. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for states to join together to propose amendments. It’s never been used before, but speaking on the floor on Monday state Senator Jason Rapert said it’s the only tool he has left.

Rapert proposed two separate resolutions. The first would redefine marriage as between one man and one woman. The second would say life begins at conception and effectively ban abortion.

The Republican from Bigelow buttressed his argument to restrict marriage rights with references to struggles for equality.

“When the Supreme Court ruled against the definition of marriage between a man and a woman, we have one option left now. We can seek to have a change. Just like we had when women could vote and slavery was overturned and when 18 year olds could vote. We have one more option to do that,” said Rapert.

Democratic State Senator Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock said a more appropriate comparison for Rapert’s resolution is past efforts to restrict interracial marriage.

“The freedom to marry or not to marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state. The same it seems to me applies to individuals who want to marry somebody that they love whether their gender is the same or not,” said Chesterfield.

“Here we are again, as we did when Loving v. Virginia passed talking about a constitutional amendment because we found it egregious that two people of different races would marry," she said. "Now we are equally repulsed it seems by the idea of two people of the same gender marrying.”

The resolution failed by one vote in the 35 member chamber with Republican Senate President Jonathan Dismang of Beebe among several GOP members not voting. Initially the effort had even fewer supporters with four Republicans (Eads, Garner, Hickey, and Johnson) switching from NV to yes votes before the final tally. Senator Rapert pledged to try again.

Rapert’s other resolution, to define life as beginning at conception failed along similar lines. The senator was unnerved that his conservative colleagues didn’t jump on board.

“It’s kind of like sitting there and somebody’s attacking the house. They’re coming through the front door and you’ve got a shotgun over in the corner and you know you can use the shotgun to stop the aggressor and you don’t go pick up the shotgun and stop the aggressor. Pick it up, Article V. Pick it up, propose an amendment. Pick it up, and stand up for what you believe in,” said Rapert.

33 other states would have to back a similar call for a constitutional amendment for this never-before-used amendment process to begin. It would eventually need ratification from the states as well.