WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage but gave Republican leaders a consolation prize by putting lawmakers on record on an issue that will be used as campaign fodder in the November elections.
The “Marriage Protection Amendment,” backed by President Bush, fell 49 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to begin the process of changing the Constitution. The vote was 227 for the amendment and 186 against.
But the amendment’s supporters said the House vote was just the beginning of a long effort to pass the measure. “This issue is not going away,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
As the House debated the marriage amendment, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., assailed the Republican National Committee for sending a mailer to voters in his state depicting a Bible with the word “banned” stamped across it and warning, “Liberals want to impose their values on West Virginia,” including sanctioning same-sex marriage.
“If ever there were one book that should never be used for political gain,” Byrd said, “it is the Bible.”
The House vote was the latest in a string scheduled by Republican leaders to force Democrats to cast politically tough votes. The issue already was dead for the year after the amendment’s supporters failed in July to muster even majority support in the Senate.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., accused Republicans of bringing up the issue to create “a demagogic political ad” against Democrats who voted against it. The advocacy group Americans United For Separation of Church and State, which described itself as a “liberty watchdog group,” called the vote an “election-year ploy designed to help the religious right launch political attacks as the Nov. 2 election approaches.”
In Kansas, Kris Kobach, the Republican challenger to Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, has endorsed the constitutional amendment. Until Thursday, Moore had not publicly taken a position on it. He voted against it.
In North Dakota, Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who had not taken a public position on the amendment, voted against it. His Republican opponent, Duane Sand, has supported it.
“This shows Earl Pomeroy is out of touch with the values of most of the voters of North Dakota,” said Matt Lewis, Sand’s campaign manager.
Conservative groups, including the Christian Coalition of America and the Family Research Council, said they would count the vote as a bellwether in their lawmaker rankings.
But a number of conservative Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the measure. Some contended that amending the Constitution was unnecessary.
Voting for the amendment were 191 Republicans and 36 Democrats. Opposed were 158 Democrats, 27 Republicans and one Independent.
The proposed two-sentence amendment, introduced by Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave, R-Colo., defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.” The amendment’s supporters argued it was necessary because “activist” judges in Massachusetts permitted same-sex marriages in that state. That, they complained, led to same-sex marriages being performed in San Francisco, Oregon, New York and elsewhere.
“Marriage is the basic unit of society, the very DNA of civilization, and if that civilization is to endure, marriage must be protected,” DeLay said.
Opponents attacked the measure as an effort to write discrimination into the Constitution. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass., called the measure “legislative gay bashing.”
Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for gay and lesbian issues, said after the vote: “Congress today rejected discrimination and rejected playing politics with peoples’ lives.”
The vote underscored the difficulty of passing a Constitutional amendment, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Recognizing that, the Republican-controlled House, on a largely party-line vote, in July approved a bill designed to let state courts rather than federal courts decide whether states should recognize out-of-state marriages between people of the same sex. That measure has gone nowhere in the Senate.