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Gay Rights Efforts To Continue Advocates Eye Courts, Congress While Clinton Walks A Fine Line

Gay rights advocates, stung by the Senate’s overwhelming vote against same-sex marriage, say they will press their battle in the courts for what Congress and the president would deny them.

And buoyed by their near-win Tuesday in the Senate on a separate bill seeking to outlaw job discrimination against gays, they said they would bring that issue back in Congress, possibly later this fall.

“Even though the news of the day is the Defense of Marriage Act, it’s important to understand that we came within one vote of winning in the Senate on a law that would guarantee our civil rights in the workplace. That’s phenomenal,” said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay lobbying group in Washington.

The 85-14 vote on the Defense of Marriage Act was expected, but the closeness of the vote on the anti-discrimination measure - it failed, 50-49 - came as a surprise, even to some gay-rights supporters.

The twin votes illuminate the fine line President Clinton is walking with his general support of gays.

He said again after Tuesday’s vote that he would sign the bill outlawing same-sex marriages, engendering outrage from its opponents and triggering plans for a protest at his San Francisco presidential campaign headquarters today.

But, he added, “this should not be cause for any sort of discrimination or gay bashing.”

Clinton reiterated his support for the job bill, the first straight-out gay and lesbian civil rights measure ever to receive serious consideration in the Senate or the House.

If Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., had not been forced to miss the vote, staying by the side of a son who had cancer surgery Monday, he might have cast the 50th vote for the anti-discrimination bill, gay advocates said. A Pryor aide said he didn’t know how the senator would have voted.

Adding to the drama, the White House had alerted Vice President Al Gore that he might have to fly back from a Philadelphia engagement to break a tie in favor of the bill, said White House gay rights liaison Richard Socarides.

The anti-discrimination bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., vowed to make it a top priority for passage in the Congress that convenes in January.