The Senate today begins considering a constitutional marriage amendment, a proposal that Republicans say is needed to protect the institution from “activist judges” but that Democrats attack as a cynical election-year move while “the world goes to Hades in a handbasket.”
President Bush this weekend stepped into the fray, using his Saturday radio address to urge approval of the amendment, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He will make another push at a White House meeting today, after conservative groups complained that he hasn’t fought hard enough for the measure.
The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to limit debate and force a final vote, but even supporters say they likely won’t get the needed backing from 60 senators to force a final vote. In July 2004, the same motion didn’t even get a majority of the votes, losing 50-48. Supporters expect a handful of new “yes” votes this time because of Republicans who replaced Democrats in the last election.
Actual passage of the constitutional amendment would require two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes. Were that to happen, ratification would then require approval of three-quarters of state legislatures.
“That union between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of our society. It is under attack today,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said last week. “Unelected activist judges are tearing down state laws in nine states today. That’s why I will take it to the floor of the Senate.”
Opponents say that marriage is best left as an issue for states to decide, that the amendment is unnecessary and discriminatory and that Mr. Frist and allies are trying to divert attention away from Iraq, high gas prices and other major problems by forcing a measure everyone knows won’t pass.
“The world is going to Hades in a handbasket,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, ticking off avian flu and other concerns. “And we’re going to debate the next three weeks, I’m told, gay marriage, a flag amendment and God only knows what else. I can’t believe the American people can’t see through this.”
But Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said yesterday on CNN’s “Late Edition” that he will vote for the measure because it will “reflect the will of the people and protect them from activist judges.”
All three senators are mentioned as possible 2008 presidential candidates.
“Our country faces great challenges. … Yet instead of addressing these issues, Senator Frist has chosen to put the politics of division ahead of real progress by pushing for a debate on a divisive amendment,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said recently.
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, retorted that marriage is clearly being “redefined” and that Congress can and should act.
He added, “And if Harry Reid wants to say that he’s not doing things for political reasons, I’d love to have that debate.”
Sen. Wayne Allard, the Colorado Republican sponsoring the measure, also dismissed Mr. Reid’s complaint.
“Every time we have the vote, they’re going to say ‘Oh, it’s a political vote,’” he said. “But if you want to move the issue forward, you have to have votes.”
Conservative pro-family groups say the Senate vote is crucial to the Republican base this election year.