- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

House leaders are likely to hold a test vote on issues related to homosexual “marriage” to show where House members stand before they push ahead with an actual constitutional amendment.

Options under discussion for a House vote, Republican aides said, include legislation that would strip federal courts of their jurisdiction to hear cases regarding the definition of marriage, and a measure that would define marriage in the District of Columbia as being between a man and a woman.

A House Republican leadership aide explained that voting first on legislation like this is a way to “flesh out where the votes are” and let leaders and outside groups target members who vote no, in order to persuade them to support the constitutional amendment later on.

Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said he and other backers of the constitutional amendment “don’t have a complete read” on where members stand on it, and an initial vote on related legislation would help them identify who to target.

“We want [the amendment] to win, and we have an opportunity to grow the vote with a two-vote strategy,” Mr. Pitts said.

Although both chambers have held a series of hearings on marriage this year, only the Senate has planned a vote, for the week of July 12, on a constitutional amendment which would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Both supporters and opponents of the amendment admit the Senate doesn’t have the 67 votes needed to pass it, but backers say it will put senators on the record and make the public aware that traditional marriage is being threatened by those who back homosexual “marriage.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said this week that the House will wait until it has enough votes to pass a federal marriage amendment before bringing it up for a vote and that leaders are looking at other types of votes to put members on the record.

But trial votes also would ensure that the House is on the record regarding the issue of marriage, in case there isn’t a vote on the constitutional amendment this year. It also would allow members who don’t necessarily support the constitutional amendment to get on the record in support of traditional marriage.

“There are tons of people who agree that marriage is between a man and a woman, but aren’t ready to support the amendment,” the Republican aide said, adding that the first vote will likely take place this summer before August recess and that leaders haven’t firmly decided whether the House will vote on the constitutional amendment this year.

“The biggest thing is we don’t want [the federal marriage amendment] to crash” in the House, another House Republican aide said.

The Senate, meanwhile, is being much more aggressive, although the amendment will likely fail there.

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage and the driving force behind the amendment, said the point of the approaching Senate vote is “to get people on the record.”

“Nobody expects anything other than that,” he added.

And he said the main reason for the Senate’s aggressiveness compared to the House, is the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who was one of the earliest supporters of the constitutional amendment.

“The real explanation for the pace of events in the Senate is Bill Frist; he feels very strongly about the issue,” Mr. Daniels said.

When asked yesterday why the Senate is being so aggressive when the amendment is likely to fail, Mr. Frist replied, “There needs to be a national dialogue and a national discussion, and therefore it’s high on my agenda.”

Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of playing politics and holding the vote just for political use against those who oppose it, especially Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Another force at play is concern over how the public will react. The average voter on the street does not see a dire and immediate threat against marriage, Mr. Daniels said, so the goal is to raise public awareness.

“Their polling probably tells them what everybody else’s does, which is that this issue cuts both ways,” one House Democratic aide said about House Republican leaders.

The Democratic aide said while most Americans don’t favor same-sex “marriage,” they don’t really want to amend the Constitution over the issue.

“If this gets too high-profile and [Republican leaders] look like they’re being driven by bigotry or the Religious Right, it could make voters nervous,” the aide said.

Mr. Daniels said the House is “letting the Senate go first and watching the impact that has” with the public, before going forward with the amendment in the House.

But Mr. Pitts said “the public is with us” in support for a constitutional amendment that would effectively ban homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. DeLay admonished the Senate not to move ahead with a vote they know will likely fail.

“I really think the Senate should vote on this when they have the votes to pass it. That’s what we are trying to do,” he said Tuesday.

“If the Senate votes and they don’t pass it, it’s incumbent on the House to pass an amendment to put pressure back on the Senate to vote again,” he added.

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