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House rejects gay marriage ban amendment
By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on Tuesday, a setback that conservatives hope to turn 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," a slight improvement over the last House vote just before the 2004 election but 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 marriages. "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 that 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 (news, bio, voting record), 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.
Bush has advocated, and the Republican Party's conservative base has demanded, that the ban be extended to the federal level. "The administration believes that the future of marriage in America should be decided through the democratic constitutional amendment process, rather than by the court orders of a few," the White House said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Pence (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., the leader of House conservatives, argued that the vote was a "successful failure."
"We poured a little more concrete in the footings of a building that will be built," Pence said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading supporter of the amendment, said his group will put out a voter scorecard that will go to millions of Americans before this November's election. "This will be a very prominent issue," he said.
"The overwhelming majority of the American people support traditional marriage," said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (news, bio, voting record), R-Colo., sponsor of the amendment. "And the people have a right to know whether their elected representatives agree with them."
The proposed amendment says that "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither the 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."
The House vote in 2004 was 227-186 in favor of the amendment, 49 short of the needed majority.
"They have now failed twice in their shameful election-year ploys, using gay and lesbian families as punching bags," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group. "We didn't see any traction" in Tuesday's vote, he said.
The Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights. In addition to two-thirds congressional approval, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The amendment is HJ Res 88.
On the Net:
Family Research Council: http://www.frc.org/
Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org/
House rejects Bush-backed bid to ban gay marriage
By Thomas Ferraro
Tue Jul 18, 3:18 PM ET
The Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage but forced Democrats to stake out a position on the divisive issue before U.S. congressional elections.
The vote to approve the measure backed by President George W. Bush was 236-187, 46 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. Most Republican lawmakers voted for it and most Democrats against.
The religious right and other social conservatives vow to make same-sex marriage an issue in the November elections when control of the Republican-led U.S. Congress will be at stake.
With polls showing broad discontent with lawmakers, Democrats have accused Republicans of pushing hot-button issues like this one to try to rally their conservative base and divert attention from other matters like the Iraq war.
Last month, the Senate rejected constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and outlaw burning the American flag.
"This is about the Republican majority -- once again -- trying to divide and polarize the nation," said Democratic Rep. James McGovern (news, bio, voting record) of Massachusetts, the only state to fully recognize same-sex marriage and where about 8,000 gay couples have wed since 2004.
The White House said in a statement backers were forced to take the action to try to stop "activist judges" from redefining traditional marriage.
"The administration believes that the future of marriage in America should be decided through the democratic constitutional amendment process, rather than by the court orders of a few," the White House said.
According to a June poll by the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, down from 60 percent in August 2004.
The survey also found that Americans rank many issues as more important, including the economy, war on terror, health care and education.
The House defeated the same proposal in 2004 on a vote of 227-186, and proponents said they were encouraged they gained ground this year.
"We knew from the beginning that this was going to take time," said Tom McClusky, a lobbyist with the conservative Family Research Council.
To become law, a proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate and then be ratified by three quarters of the states.
Forty-five states have passed laws or amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. The 1996 U.S. Defense of Marriage Act allows states to refuse to recognize marriages performed elsewhere.
In recent years, state judges have struck down five state gay-marriage bans, though three were reinstated on appeal. There are now court challenges in six states.
While Massachusetts fully recognizes same-sex marriage, six other states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex couples some legal protections.
US lawmakers reject proposed ban on gay marriage
Tue Jul 18, 8:37 PM ET
A proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage failed to pass on in a vote in the US House of Representatives, though the issue is expected to remain a hot political topic in November legislative elections.
The proposed ban, which is highly popular among the religious right that forms the base of support for President George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans in Congress, garnered 236 votes in favor, short of the 290 votes needed.
The same proposal failed in the Senate last month, 49-48.
A two-thirds majority is needed in each chamber of Congress before the question of amending the Constitution may be taken up by the 50 states.
State courts meanwhile in New York and Georgia ruled this month that same-sex couples have no right to marry.
With Bush's Republicans facing difficult legislative elections in November, the president has repeatedly expressed his opposition to gay marriage, faulting "activist" judges who he says have overstepped their authority and undermined the traditional definition of a union between a man and a woman.
Conservative activists say they plan to place a high priority on the issue as they seek to preserve a Republican majority in Congress.
Gay marriage is recognized only in the state of Massachusetts, while Vermont and Connecticut recognize civil unions that offer gays many of the same rights as heterosexual couples.
State Votes Will Show Whether Bans Are Losing Steam or Gaining Ground
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; A04
DENVER -- The safest bet in American politics in recent years has been a state ban on same-sex marriage. Since 1998, proposals to outlaw such unions have appeared on the ballot in 20 states, both red and blue, and they have passed everywhere by big margins.
Accordingly, opponents of same-sex marriage -- who prefer to call the issue "protection of marriage" -- are confident these days as they look ahead to the eight (or possibly nine) states in which the ban is expected to be on the ballot in November.
"It costs some time and money to collect the signatures to put it on the ballot," said Bill Moeller of the Arlington-based citizens group American Values. "But once it's there, it tends to win with large numbers."
And yet, supporters of same-sex marriage -- who prefer to call the issue "marriage equality" -- are also optimistic as they look forward to this fall's campaigns. "Attitudes are changing, as people come to see this as a civil rights issue," said Brad Luna, of the Human Rights Campaign. "All the indicators show Americans are moving in the direction of marriage equality."
Among other things, proponents of same-sex marriage think they have a chance this November, for the first time, to defeat a ban on a state ballot. A nonpartisan poll in Wisconsin last month showed voters evenly split on the issue, with 49 percent favoring such a ban and 48 percent opposed. Gov. Jim Doyle (D) and four former governors from both parties have come out against the amendment.
Polling in Arizona and Colorado also suggests fairly close divisions. But opponents of same-sex marriage note that polls usually understate the actual vote for such a ban.
Beyond that, efforts to put a ban on state ballots are starting to fall short, both in the legislatures and in citizens' initiatives. In eight states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, proposals calling for a ballot referendum banning same-sex marriage failed to pass the legislature this year. In California and Florida, opponents of same-sex marriage were unable to collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot this fall.
In Illinois, groups opposing same-sex marriage submitted 347,000 signatures for their ballot proposal, but volunteers who support the unions scrutinized every name and challenged so many that the State Board of Elections refused to certify the proposal. Opponents are appealing that ruling.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have been cheered by a series of recent court decisions in their favor. On Friday, a federal appeals court upheld a measure approved by Nebraska voters in 2000 that bars same-sex marriage and also denies gay partners legal benefits that come with marriage. That reversed the ruling of a lower federal court, which had voided the Nebraska law.
Tennessee's Supreme Court, also on Friday, ruled that a proposal to ban same-sex marriage can be on the November ballot.
Earlier this month, the highest state courts in New York and Georgia rejected arguments that a denial of marriage rights to gays violates the principle of equal rights under law.
In the electoral arena, most of the ballot issues this November fall into two categories. One approach is a simple definition of marriage. For example, the wording suggested by Colorado-based Focus on the Family declares, "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state."
Other measures go further, outlawing "civil unions" and denying same-sex couples the legal and tax benefits that married heterosexual couples receive.
The most complex ballot this year on the issue will be in Colorado, where at least two and perhaps four competing measures will face voters.
Opponents there are expected to put up a one-sentence initiative defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Supporters decided that they probably could not defeat that proposal, so they put a separate measure on the ballot that would legalize "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples, giving them various financial, insurance and family benefits restricted to married heterosexual couples.
"We've decided to put most our money and effort into the campaign for domestic partnerships," said Sean Duffy, a Republican consultant in Denver who heads Coloradans for Fairness and Equality, which supports same-sex marriage. "It's possible that we could defeat one-man one-woman here, but we've decided to focus our effort on passing our domestic-partnership plan instead."
To counter the domestic-partnership proposal, opponents of gay rights are soliciting signatures for a "no legal status" ballot initiative, which would prohibit the state from "creating any legal status similar to marriage." If that measure makes the ballot, Duffy said, his side will put up another initiative designed to exclude domestic partnerships from the no-legal-status law.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have repeatedly failed to win enough support in Congress for a federal constitutional amendment banning such unions. The Senate did not approve such an amendment last month. Nonetheless, the House has scheduled a vote for today, and there, too, the measure is expected to fall well short of approval.
As a result, opponents of same-sex marriage see state elections as the place to make their stand. "We expect to win every ballot issue this fall, as we've done in the past, and keep our momentum for protecting traditional marriages," said Moeller, of American Values.
But supporters are seeking a breakthrough this year. "I think Americans look at Massachusetts and say, 'Well, Massachusetts is different,' " said Luna, of the Human Rights Campaign. "But let it happen in Washington or Wisconsin and people will say, 'Okay, this isn't so different, it's not the end of the world to give everybody equal marriage rights."