President Bush and conservatives in Congress vowed to keep fighting for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage after most Senate Democrats, joined by six Republicans, blocked an effort July 14 to bring an amendment to the Senate floor.
“I am deeply disappointed that the effort to pass a constitutional amendment affirming the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman was temporarily blocked in the Senate,” said Bush. “It is important for our country to continue the debate on this important issue, and I urge the House of Representatives to pass this amendment.”
The Senate voted 48 to 50 on July 14 for cloture on the motion to proceed to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), 12 votes short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. If the proposed constitutional amendment ever comes to the floor, it will need 67 votes to pass.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (Mass.) and running mate John Edwards (N.C.) were absent for the vote, but said they opposed the amendment itself and opposed bringing it to the floor for a vote.
Various versions of the amendment were proposed, and Republican Senate leaders approached the floor vote not clearly committed to specific amendment language. Each version defined “marriage” as the union of a man and a woman. But some proposals left open the possibility that judges could force states to legalize same-sex “civil unions,” while some senators who supported the FMA were not sure that any of the proposed amendments would prevent courts from forcing states to legalize “civil unions.”
Six Republican senators voted against allowing any vote on the FMA: John Sununu (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.). All the other GOP senators voted in favor of having a floor vote on FMA. Only three Democrats voted for allowing a vote–Ben Nelson (Neb.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), and Zell Miller (Ga.)–with all the other Democrats opposed.
Democrats offered to allow consideration of the FMA if the Republicans agreed to limit it to a single roll call on a single version of the amendment. But Republicans insisted on trying to get votes on differing versions of the amendment to see which one garnered the most support. So Democrats forced the cloture vote, blocking a direct vote on any version.
“Defining marriage is a power that should be left to the states,” Sununu said in a statement explaining his vote against cloture.
Politically vulnerable Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.), facing a stiff challenge from former Rep. John Thune (R.-S.D.), echoed Sununu’s argument and voted against cloture. Citing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Daschle said in floor debate, “In South Dakota, we have never had a same-sex marriage, and won’t have any.” DOMA prevents states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said DOMA’s days are numbered. “Virtually every constitutional authority I know of believes that the courts will require states to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts because of the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause,” he told HUMAN EVENTS during the vote. He noted, “Kerry and a whole raft of Democrats” have long said “that DOMA was unconstitutional.”
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D.-Hawaii) claimed that he wanted to allow states to make their own decisions about marriage. “I want to keep it open,” he said.
Hatch said that more popular pressure was needed to get an FMA through the Senate. “There’s no pressure on any of the Democrats,” he said.
“My guess is there won’t be support for it unless and until the courts find DOMA unconstitutional,” said Sen. Don Nickles (R.-Okla.). Hatch said that federal courts in Nebraska were well on their way to ruling on DOMA.
“Take it to the people,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), when asked what the next step was. “We are ultimately going to win this fight. We’ve got to win it to have a real culture.” Primary FMA sponsor Sen. Wayne Allard (R.-Colo.) said at a press conference a few minutes later, “I don’t expect to have another vote this year. . . . I view this as a very good start.”
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) told reporters July 14 that the FMA “could very well come up this year.” He promised a House floor vote “in the next few weeks” on a bill (HR 3313) from Rep. John Hostettler (R.-Ind.) that, by majority votes in both chambers, would, as permitted by the Constitution, strip the federal courts of the ability to consider challenges to DOMA. But Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) said there was no predicting how the activist courts would respond to Hostettler’s bill. Court jurisdiction-stripping “has never been done on this magnitude,” he said. “We wouldn’t know for three or four years if it were effective.”