House vote fails on amendment to define marriage

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The House yesterday failed to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, but its supporters called it a “successful failure,” noting they picked up votes since the last effort.

The vote was 236-187, but amendments to the U.S. Constitution need two-thirds of the chamber to pass.

“Be assured that this issue is not over,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. “We will continue to send a message to the American people that preserving and protecting marriage is a priority.”

In September 2004, the measure failed 227-186 in the House. It needed 290 to pass. The Senate rejected the amendment on a 49-48 procedural vote last month.

Republican leaders pushed the issue as part of a focus on values, putting lawmakers on record four months before the midterm elections. Supporters say it would protect families from what they call “activist judges.”

“We will be tenacious because we believe that marriage is worth standing for,” said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, who sponsored the measure. “When you can make marriage mean anything, eventually it will mean nothing, to the detriment of society.”

However, 27 Republicans sided with 159 Democrats to oppose the proposal, while 34 Democrats voted in favor of it. The chamber’s lone independent voted against it and one Democrat voted “present.”

Amendment opponents, such as Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, dismissed it as discriminatory “gay-bashing.”

“Exclusion and denying people rights are not family values,” he said.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, argued that the measure “is not about bashing anybody.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said the amendment shows Republicans have the “wrong priorities.”

“The litany of things that we have not done gets longer and longer while we distract ourselves” with social issues, he said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California echoed those comments, calling it a “partisan effort by Republicans to divide the American people rather than forge consensus to solve our urgent problems.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said marriage is “vulnerable to the courts.” He said he is heartened by recent court decisions upholding traditional marriage.

Traditional marriage has proven to be a potent issue for Republicans, who have benefited from conservative voter turnout in states with marriage matters on the ballot.

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