Speaking in highly personal terms, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., challenged supporters of a U.S. constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, asking "Who are we hurting?"
"All we are saying is, 'Please, can't we in our lives do this?'" said Frank. "When I go home from today's work and I choose because of my nature to associate with another man, how is that a problem for you? How does that hurt you?"
He drew no immediate reply from Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans supporting the proposed amendment.
Frank's appeal was unusual in Congress, where lawmakers clash vigorously on matters of politics and policy, but seldom refer to their personal lives - much less sexual orientation - in an attempt to influence legislation.
His remarks were supplemented by more traditional criticism from Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who accused unnamed supporters of the amendment of seeking to use it for political gain. "There are those who would like to politicize this issue and they'll use whatever means available to them to maximize whatever value they find politically," said the South Dakota lawmaker. He said he opposes the measure, adding that supporters are "not even close" to having the two-thirds support needed to prevail.
At the same time, committee approval of what would be the 28th amendment to the Constitution is not in doubt, and the appearances by Frank and other members of Congress as witnesses amounted to a dress rehearsal of the arguments likely to unfold when the matter comes before the full Senate.
Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, both Colorado Republicans who are the amendment's main sponsors, said it is needed to curb the power of "activist judges" seeking to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
"A few state courts, not legislatures, have sought to overturn both statute and common perception of marriage by expanding the definition to include same gender couples," said Allard.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who presided over the hearing, agreed, saying, "these activists have given us no choice - either we define marriage in the Constitution or they will redefine it for us, and the people will lose out."
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an opponent of the amendment and a black lawmaker, invoked the civil rights struggles of the 1960s in which he took part. "I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on same sex marriage," he said.