Marriage amendment fails again in Senate; conservatives say politicians 'out of step'


WASHINGTON — The United States Senate rejected June 7 an attempt to amend the Constitution to protect marriage, with supporters gaining only one vote in the nearly two years since their most recent effort.

After two full days of debate, Senators voted 49-48 for a procedural move to bring the Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA) to the floor for an up-or-down vote. The maneuver, known as "invoking cloture," required 60 votes to succeed, however. If the amendment had reached the floor, it would have needed 67 votes, a two-thirds majority, to pass.

In July 2004, 48 senators supported ending debate and holding a vote on the proposal. Fifty senators voted against "invoking cloture." The addition of only one vote came despite the Republican Party's gain of four Senate seats in the 2004 election.

The MPA, S.J. Res. 1, would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman in an attempt to protect the institution against continuing legal efforts to legalize "gay marriage."

So far, Massachusetts is the only state to have legalized "gay marriage," but amendment supporters predict courts will continue to expand marriage to include homosexual couples unless a federal amendment is ratified to address the problem. High courts in New Jersey, New York and Washington appear poised to legitimize same-sex unions before the end of the year.

Despite the Senate setback, the House of Representatives intends to vote on the proposal in July, Majority Leader John Boehner, R.-Ohio, told reporters.

"This is an issue that is of significant importance to many Americans," Boehner said, according to The Washington Post. "We have significant numbers of our members who want a vote on this, so we are going to have a vote."

An amendment requires approval by a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress before it goes to the states. Three-fourths of the states must pass an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution.

Afterward, amendment advocates expressed regret at the vote but promised to keep working for its ratification.

Acknowledging he is "disappointed," President Bush said in written remarks, "My position on this issue is clear: Marriage is the most fundamental institution of our society, and it should not be redefined by activist judges. The people must be heard on this issue."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said in a written statement, "We must continue fighting to ensure the Constitution is amended by the will of the people rather than by judicial activism,"

The Alliance for Marriage, which drafted the MPA, also pledged to continue its effort. "Today's vote was an important step in the democratic process to protect the future of marriage for our children and grandchildren," AFM President Matt Daniels said in a written release. "The future of marriage in America is a race between the courts and [the amendment]."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the Senate "grossly out of step with the American people" but said "values voters" would work to elect amendment supporters to that body.

The Democratic Party, homosexual rights groups and at least one church-state organization applauded the vote and castigated Republicans for spending the Senate's time on the amendment.

The amendment's consideration marked an effort by Bush and Frist "to use the politics of fear and division in an attempt to distract attention" from GOP failures, said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in a written statement. "The fact that Republicans in Washington chose to focus on a divisive effort to scapegoat LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Americans for political gain instead of addressing the real business of the nation shows why the American people need new leadership in Washington."

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, described the vote as "election-year politics at its worst. I'm glad the amendment was derailed, but it never should have been voted on. This vote was nothing but ammo for attack ads [before the November election]."

Two Democrats joined 47 Republicans in voting to end debate and hold an up-or-down vote on the amendment. Meanwhile, 40 Democrats, seven Republicans and an independent opposed the procedural move. Three senators did not vote.

Two Republican senators who supported a floor vote on the amendment in 2004 opposed the same action this time: Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

In addition to Gregg and Specter, the other GOP members who voted "no" were Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

The Democrats who voted "yes" were Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Not voting were Sens. Christopher Dodd, D.-Conn.; Chuck Hagel, R.-Neb., and John Rockefeller, D.-W.Va. In 2004, Hagel voted in support of floor action on the amendment.

Senate foes of the amendment contended during the debate leading to the vote the proposal was a political move to gain votes for Republican in this fall's election, a waste of time when there are "more important" issues to be considered and unnecessary for now.

Speaking minutes before the June 7 vote, Sen. Richard Durbin, D.-Ill., said, "There is simply no crisis or controversy before us today that requires amending the Constitution."

Pro-amendment senators, however, said a federal amendment is the only solution in the face of a widespread legal effort to legalize "gay marriage." In addition to Massachusetts, lower state courts in California, Georgia, Maryland, New York and Washington have overturned laws or amendments protecting marriage. Also, a federal judge in Nebraska invalidated a state amendment prohibiting same-sex unions.

Lawsuits have been filed against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that gives states the option of not recognizing another state's "gay marriages."

Meanwhile, at least 45 states have passed amendments or laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 6, Alabama voters approved such an amendment with 81 percent in support.

"Forty-five states have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman," Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., said shortly before the vote. "So if the senators would represent their states, this amendment would pass 90 to 10. So there's nothing to oppose in this amendment. If your state wanted to go at it at a different route, it says it has to go through the legislature; it can't be forced by the courts. What's wrong with that?"

Only two sentences, the amendment states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."