- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Senate yesterday killed a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, dealing a setback to President Bush and Republican leaders, who had pushed the proposal forward to energize their base.

Although the defeat wasn’t a surprise, the 49-48 procedural vote fell far short of the 60 votes needed to force an up-or-down vote on the measure. Seven Republicans joined Democrats to block it, and two Democrats — both facing re-election in November — supported it.

The White House and Republican leaders, facing sagging poll numbers and a restless Republican base, had insisted on the measure, which is a top goal of social conservative groups. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Yesterday, amendment supporters tried to put a positive spin on the vote, saying they would keep advocating the measure until it is approved, because courts are forcing same-sex “marriage” onto states, despite overwhelming public opposition.

“History has shown us that it can take several tries before an amendment builds the two-thirds support it needs in both houses of Congress,” Mr. Bush said after the defeat. “My position on this issue is clear: Marriage is the most fundamental institution of our society, and it should not be redefined by activist judges. The people must be heard on this issue.”

“We must continue fighting to ensure the Constitution is amended by the will of the people rather than by judicial activism,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The House is expected to vote on the measure soon.

Democrats said that the amendment is all about the November elections and that Congress should be considering more pressing problems.

“This week’s debate underscores the misplaced priorities of the Bush Republicans,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The amendment picked up one vote of support from last time around. In July 2004, 48 senators supported it and 50 opposed it.

Supporters had predicted about 52 votes this time , because the chamber’s Republican majority had increased by four seats after the 2004 election. But they lost the support of Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, both of whom switched from “yes” in 2004 to “no” yesterday. And Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who supported the amendment last time, wasn’t present to vote yesterday.

But over time, supporters said, the vote will grow and Congress will catch up to the states, 45 of which have state constitutional amendments or state laws defending traditional marriage.

“I do think we will get there,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican.

“It was a disappointment,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. “The American people have a right to expect Congress to respond.”

Nine states are facing legal challenges to their traditional marriage laws, and Nebraska is awaiting an appeal after a federal court last year struck down that state’s constitutional marriage amendment. Amendment supporters say state supreme courts in Washington, New Jersey, and New York are poised to strike down traditional marriage.

Democrats, however, accused Republicans of playing politics with the Constitution.

“It is not a billboard on which to hang political posters or slogans seeking to stir public passions for political ends,” complained Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

“There’s no marriage crisis — there’s a political crisis in the Republican Party, and this debate is nothing more than a pathetic diversion,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. He skipped the Senate’s July 2004 marriage vote but voted “no” yesterday.

Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex “marriage” after a 2003 ruling from the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Seven Republicans voted to block the measure — Mr. Gregg, Mr. Specter, Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire. Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted for the amendment.

Several opponents said it was unnecessary to amend the Constitution because most states are still handling the marriage issue as they always have, and federal courts haven’t decisively forced same-sex “marriage.”

Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who was one of the amendment’s chief proponents, denied critics’ charges that yesterday’s vote was prompted by election year politics. He said Senate leaders had considered voting on the amendment in 2005 but first wanted to wait to see how courts would deal with the issue.

“If it were purely politics, let me assure you we’d be debating it in September,” Mr. Santorum said.

Meanwhile, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said yesterday’s vote shows that the Senate “is grossly out of step with the American people.”

Others, however, predicted that Republican support for the measure would backfire.

“It actually hurts our most vulnerable, centrist Republicans,” said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-homosexual rights group.

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