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Teddy Roosevelt Also Asked Congress to Add a Marriage Amendment-The Answer Was No

Scripps Howard, writing for the Newsday (New York) (March 2, 2004)

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush isn't the first to come up with the idea of a marriage amendment to the Constitution.

Theodore Roosevelt proposed a similar amendment in 1906, saying Congress should be given authority to set national marriage and divorce standards.

Historian Kathleen Dalton said the issue then wasn't gay marriage, but Mormon practices of polygamy and quickie 60-day divorces in Reno, Nev.

Dalton, author of"Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life," said marriage concerns struck a chord with American progressives.

"Roosevelt was a moralist who believed a lot of political questions had moral issues to them," Dalton said. She noted that Roosevelt was opposed to birth control and campaigned against divorce and in favor of public flogging of wife-beaters.

In 1906, the country was still mired in issues from the 1896 admission of Utah into the Union, which sparked a debate over Mormon practices of polygamy. Dalton said that the Women's Christian Temperance Union met with Roosevelt to get his support for traditional marriage, and that the president already was upset at the wealthy, who could afford to use divorce laws in Reno to get out of their marriages.

"The issue then was not one man and one woman, but one man and several women," she said.

In his State of the Union address in 1906, Roosevelt urged Congress to tackle the marriage question, even though the federal government traditionally had left social matters to the states.

"I am well aware of how difficult it is to pass a constitutional amendment," Roosevelt told lawmakers."Nevertheless, in my judgment the whole question of marriage and divorce should be relegated to the authority of the national Congress ... and surely there is nothing so vitally essential to the welfare of the nation, nothing around which the nation should so bend itself to throw every safeguard, as the home life of the average citizen. The change would be good from every standpoint."