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Such a vote and a political issue for 2010 was probably the best the Republicans could do after Democrats lined up against challenging the court's ruling this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said Monday that he would resist any vote this year on a proposed constitutional amendment. Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, also said he was “reluctant” to support a constitutional amendment affirming marriage between a man and a woman, despite his earlier statements in support of traditional marriage.

Public reaction to the vote also could prompt Republicans to reintroduce the amendment before the session ends in the next week or so. Lawmakers who voted against the measure may come under fire from their constituents, Mr. Rants said.

“They'll have to explain this to the voters,” Mr. Rants said. “If legislators who voted no today change their minds and hearts, then I would be happy to bring up the amendment again before the end of the session.”

Before the day's legislative maneuvering could get under way, about 600 demonstrators gathered on the west Capitol steps for a rally in support of traditional marriage. After the rally, they moved en masse to the House gallery.

“You can let them know today that this issue is different,” Danny Carroll, chairman of the Iowa Family Policy Center and a former Republican state legislator, told the crowd. “This is not about taxes or spending and regulations. This is about morality and the word of God.”

Many of the demonstrators wore red, the color of the suit often worn by the Rev. Keith Ratliff, pastor of the Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church and one of the state's most visible defenders of traditional marriage.

They were met by a crowd of about 200 counterdemonstrators supporting same-sex marriage. Many wore white T-shirts with blue dots handed out by One Iowa, a pro-gay rights organization that opposes the proposed constitutional amendment.

“Our message to the legislature is, 'We're proud of you, and we want you to continue to focus on issues that matter to the people of Iowa,' ” said One Iowa spokesman Justin Uebelhor. “I think most Iowans' priority is putting food on the table, increasing jobs and rebuilding from the devastating floods.”

Iowa is one of five states in which the National Organization for Marriage will be running a $1.5 million ad campaign against same-sex marriage. The group's 60-second TV ad - which also will air in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, all of which have key statewide elections set for 2009 and 2010 - calls “the biggest lie” about same-sex marriage is that two gay persons marrying doesn't affect others, painting it instead as a threat to religious freedom, free association and school curricula.

In the ads, based on real cases, actors portray people whose same-sex marriages have specifically harmed them, and they are “afraid” that there is a “storm gathering.”

“Our goal is to get 2 million activists by the election of 2010 who support marriage, and especially to fight against the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act,” National Organization for Marriage Executive Director Brian Brown told Politico.