Senate Republican leaders, who had been seeking a clear vote on a constitutional amendment on same-sex “marriage,” yesterday found themselves outmaneuvered by Democrats and divided over which of two proposals to pursue.
President Bush and Senate Republican leaders support the Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and restricts courts’ ability to rule on the issue. But some Republicans want to vote on an alternate, simpler version — leaving Republican leaders scrambling to save face as Democrats enjoy watching from the sidelines.
“They can’t get their act together; that’s clearly the case here,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. “They can’t agree on one version.”
Republicans leaders filed a procedural motion late yesterday that would limit debate and force a final vote — a motion many say is unlikely to garner the 60 needed votes.
The Senate will hold that procedural vote tomorrow.
Democrats surprised some by saying Friday and again yesterday that they would not block a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment — sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican — and would allow a direct vote on it this week, as long as no changes are made.
But because some in the Republican ranks want to vote on a second proposal, Republican leaders yesterday rejected the Democrats’ offer and instead suggested holding a vote on each proposal. Democrats in turn rejected that, saying they would want to offer additional proposals as well.
Republicans were forced to file the procedural motion.
Mr. Allard’s proposal, which is before the Senate, would define marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
It also has a second sentence stating, “Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”
Supporters say the second sentence is designed to prevent courts from forcing a state to sanction same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships, while allowing states to choose to do so. But Democratic opponents have argued that sentence is not clear and could ban states from having such same-sex civil unions.
Some Republicans want to avoid the civil unions issue entirely, and simply pass the first sentence that defines marriage, and many Republicans want to hold a vote on this one-sentence proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee — who strongly supports Mr. Allard’s measure and wanted to hold a direct vote on it — suggested to Democrats late yesterday that the Senate hold a vote on Mr. Allard’s as well as the simpler version. Democrats said no.
A Senate Republican aide said the simpler version could garner more votes than Mr. Allard’s proposal, and Democrats just want to prevent that by not agreeing to two votes.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said having the two votes would allow leaders to “find the sweet spot” and the language “that can build the greatest consensus.”
A second Senate Republican aide said Democrats are scared of that and want to keep the vote count as low as possible, so they can tell constituents there’s no support for it.
But Democrats said Republicans were simply trying to save face yesterday.
“Why in the world would they bring something before the Senate that they don’t want?” Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid of Nevada asked yesterday, referring to Mr. Allard’s proposal.
Mr. Reid predicted that a direct vote on Mr. Allard’s proposal would garner about 40 to 42 votes of the 67 votes needed to pass, and that about 8 to 12 Republicans would join Democrats in voting against it. Republican leaders may be trying to avoid “that embarrassment,” Mr. Reid said.
Meanwhile, several Republicans took to the floor to support the marriage amendment yesterday, and few Democrats spoke.
Mr. Frist joined the Alliance for Marriage and religious and family groups in an afternoon press event, touting the importance of protecting traditional marriage from being redefined by the courts.
The majority leader said the 27th amendment to the Constitution had to do with regulating congressional salaries. “It’s not too much to ask that the 28th be about protecting traditional marriage,” he said.
Fifty-one percent of Americans support a constitutional amendment defining traditional marriage and banning same-sex “marriage,” while 44 percent oppose it, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted from June 25 to 28.
A Gallup poll conducted June 27 to 29 worded the question another way — asking people whether the law should recognize “marriages” between homosexuals as valid. Fifty-five percent said they should not be recognized and 39 percent said they should, according to the poll.
Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage and the driving force behind the Federal Marriage Amendment, said that no matter what the outcome in the Senate this week, the marriage issue is simply not going away, because too many Americans feel strongly about it.
“This debate preceded the elections; it will last after the elections,” he said.