WASHINGTON – The House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on Tuesday, a setback to conservatives, who hope to turn it to their advantage in the fall elections.
“Be assured that this issue is not over,” said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
The vote was 236-187 with one member voting “present.” More voted in favor of the bill this time than during the vote just before the 2004 election, but the total is still 46 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.
Supporters argued that Congress must trump the actions of judges around the country who have ruled in favor of gay marriage. “We must not allow an institution of such great importance to be arbitrarily redefined for the entire nation by a small number of unelected judges,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.
Opponents, including 27 Republicans, argued the measure was meaningless – the Senate rejected the amendment last month, effectively killing it for this session of Congress – as well as unneeded and mean-spirited.
“This is a partisan effort by Republicans to divide the American people rather than forge consensus to solve our urgent problems,” said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California.
Democrats argued that the House’s focus on the GOP’s “American values agenda,” which includes votes this week on a pledge protection bill and a vote on President Bush’s expected veto of an embryonic stem cell bill, was a distraction at a time the nation faced serious domestic and international problems.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of just a few openly gay members of Congress, said he took the proposal personally. “I think this is motivated, frankly, by a dislike of those of us who are gay and lesbian,” he said, and he objected to “people taking batting practice with my life.”
The defeat in the House followed a series of victories at the state level where courts, legislatures and voters have come out for gay marriage bans.
Forty-five states have either constitutional amendments banning gay marriage or statutes outlawing same-sex weddings. Even in Massachusetts, the only state that allows gay marriage, the state’s high court recently ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment to ban future gay marriages can be placed on the ballot.