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Republicans worry that even the U.S. Supreme Court — dominated by GOP nominees — might undo DOMA.

“There’s a very real potential threat that they could overturn DOMA,” Mr. Stewart said.

Opponents of a DOMA amendment dismissed those threats and accused Republicans of raising the issue simply to make political hay on the eve of a presidential campaign.

“The posturing we’ve seen so far has all the earmarks of political maneuvering to tee up an issue for next year’s campaigns by toying once again with the U.S. Constitution,” said one Democratic aide. “Federal law already defines marriage, and no court has questioned that law.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was one of only 14 senators and the only major contender for the Democratic ticket to vote against DOMA in 1996. Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida voted for the measure. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio weren’t elected to Congress at the time.

The Edwards campaign didn’t responded to inquiries yesterday about whether it would support a DOMA amendment.

Mr. Smith, of Human Rights Campaign, called it “a wedge issue in an election year. The timing is certainly suspect.”

But Elizabeth Keys, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Conference, said no political games are at play.

“The marriage amendment is not an issue we even looked to put on the agenda,” she said. “But we are ready to respond if the liberal Democrats continue to press the courts to undermine the legal status of traditional marriage.”