Gay marriage ban fails again

Thursday, June 8, 2006

WASHINGTON -- No one was surprised by the Senate's rejection of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on Wednesday. After all, it had failed before.

But for conservative Republicans, the defeat stung this time.

President Bush and the GOP hope to use the 49-48 procedural vote -- 11 votes shy of the 60 required to succeed -- to mobilize their conservative base of supporters. Instead of mustering the first-ever Senate majority for the amendment, however, they lost votes from their own party -- even with the GOP's four-seat gain in the 2004 elections.

Two veteran Republican senators, Budget Committee chairman Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, switched their votes from "yes" two years ago to "no." A third Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, was absent because, ironically, he was traveling with Bush.

Supporters of the amendment noted the net gain of one "yes" vote over the tally two years ago, when 48 senators voted in favor.

Bush suggested the ban was proper and its time would come.

"Our nation's founders set a high bar for amending our Constitution and history has shown us that it can take several tries before an amendment builds the two-thirds support it needs in both houses of Congress," he said.

Democrats suggested it was all about conservative politics.

"Why is it when Republicans are all for reducing the federal government's impact on people's lives until it comes to these stinging litmus test issues, whether gay marriage or end of life they suddenly want the federal government to intervene?" asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "It makes no sense other than throwing red meat to a certain constituency."

The tally Wednesday put the ban 18 votes short of the 67 needed for the Senate to approve a constitutional amendment. It takes two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress to send a proposed amendment to the states for ratification.

Supporters of the amendment acknowledged disappointment in the vote and, to some extent, Bush's advocacy. "He could have done more, but he doesn't have a vote in this one," Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said of the president.

Despite the defeat, amendment backers insisted progress had been made because the debate over three days raised the issue's profile and will force candidates to answer for their votes on the campaign trail.

"Eventually, Congress is going to have to catch up to the wisdom of the American people or the American people will change Congress for the better," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

Added Brownback: "We're not going to stop until marriage between a man and a woman is protected."

Seven Republicans voted to kill the amendment. The five others were Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

Gregg said that in 2004, he believed a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state would undermine the authority of other states, like his, to prohibit such unions.

"Fortunately, such legal pandemonium has not ensued," Gregg said. "The past two years have shown that federalism, not more federal laws, is a viable and preferable approach."

A majority of Americans define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, as the proposed amendment does, according to a poll released this week by ABC News. But an equal majority oppose amending the Constitution over the issue, the poll found.

Forty-five of the 50 states have acted to define traditional marriage in ways that would ban same-sex marriage -- 19 with state constitutional amendments and 26 with statutes.

The proposed federal amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. After approval by Congress, it would have to be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Senate Democrat who supported the amendment. Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia voted "yes" on Wednesday's motion to move forward with an up-or-down vote on the amendment but said he opposed the measure itself.

In addition to Hagel, Democrats Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and John Rockefeller of West Virginia did not vote.

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