Gay-Marriage Ban Faces Loss in Early Vote
Published: July 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, July 13 - Senate Republican leaders face defeat in their push to add an amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage to the Constitution, with opponents expressing confidence that they will easily muster the votes Wednesday to either block the proposal's consideration or defeat it outright.

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, acknowledged as much on Tuesday as senators spent a third day offering their views on an issue that has become a prominent feature of the election-year landscape. He said the Senate action would be far from the last word.

"This is the start," Dr. Frist said. "And it's not going to be over tomorrow. We'll be back in the future."

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers said backers of the amendment, which has the strong support of President Bush, were struggling to line up even a simple majority of 51 senators on their side. They need at least 60 votes to cut off debate and 67 votes to approve the amendment.

Democrats said the looming defeat proved their chief point that Republicans were cynically pushing a proposal they knew could not pass in an effort to create an election-year division to motivate conservative voters and draw a contrast with Democrats.

"Why, in this election year, are we debating an amendment to the Constitution designed to restrict the rights of gay Americans?" asked Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey. "It's clearly not a legitimate legislative debate, as there are nowhere near enough votes to pass this amendment."

Republican sponsors said they were driven to pursue the amendment by a court decision that allowed same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, a development they said could spread throughout the nation and undermine traditional marriage. The lawmakers also sought to counter the criticism that they were promoting discrimination, saying they were motivated by a desire to preserve a traditional family environment for children.

"You can say I'm a hater," said Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania and a leading proponent of the amendment. "But I would argue I'm a lover. I'm a lover of traditional families and children who deserve the right to have a mother and father."

While most Democrats were opposing the amendment as unnecessary given an existing federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and permitting states to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages that take place in other states, Republicans were divided.

Some said they would buck their leadership and join Democrats in opposing the effort to cut off debate, effectively killing the amendment for the year. Others, like Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said they would join Republican leaders in trying to overcome the procedural hurdle but were opposed to the amendment because it could be interpreted to prevent state-sanctioned civil unions.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the split resulted partly from the fact that the Judiciary Committee was bypassed to bring the proposal directly to the floor.

"Trying to write discrimination into the Constitution is bad enough," he said. "But throwing the Senate's rules out the window and proceeding with a discriminatory amendment that the majority of Americans don't want and a majority of senators don't support - solely for the purpose of trying to score points in a presidential election campaign - demeans this institution and all who have served in it."