Last edited: July 17, 2004

Democrats Ready to Vote on Marriage

The Washington Times, July 10, 2004

By Amy Fagan

Senate Democrats decided their strategy late yesterday on the federal marriage amendment, saying they would not block or delay the measure and would agree to a direct vote on it next week.

“We’re ready to rock and roll,” Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in a late-afternoon statement on the Senate floor. “Procedurally ... we’re not going to be in the way.”

Many Republicans don’t like the amendment and don’t want to vote on it, Senate Democratic aides said.

While most of these Republicans likely would have stood with their Republican leaders against Democratic efforts to block the bill, the aides said, a direct vote on the amendment is a different ballgame and will likely result in more Republicans going against their leaders and joining Democrats to oppose the measure.

“There was a feeling that it would be better to have some of these Republicans on record against it,” one aide said.

The Senate began yesterday to debate the constitutional amendment, which is sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, and would prevent same-sex “marriage” by defining the institution as the union of a man and woman.

It requires 67 votes to pass the Senate, and both sides concede that the threshold won’t be met, but proponents say it is time for senators to go on the record. House Republican leaders have said they will take a vote on the same amendment in the fall.

President Bush was asked about the issue yesterday and reiterated publicly for the first time in months his support for a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage.

“I believe in the sanctity of marriage,” Mr. Bush said. “History has shown us that marriage between men and women has served society well, and any redefinition by itself will weaken marriage.”

Mr. Bush, however, added that one should “take a deep breath” before debating the definition of marriage so it is done “with the ultimate of respect.”

“What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do,” Mr. Bush said. “This is America. It’s a free society, but it doesn’t mean we have to redefine traditional marriage.”

[This is a significant change in position on sodomy laws for President Bush who supported the Texas sodomy law while governor and campaigned for President in 2000 in favor of sodomy laws. -Bob]

Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry has said he is opposed to the amendment. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, would return to Washington for the vote, which will likely be on Wednesday.

In the Senate meanwhile, Republican leaders and outside groups had been operating under the assumption that Democrats were going to try to block the bill and Republicans would have to muster 60 votes for a procedural motion to stop them from doing so.

Mr. Reid said Democrats were leaning toward blocking it as of Thursday, but now they will agree to a final vote on the Allard amendment—without any changes—next week.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would have to talk to Mr. Allard and other key Republicans over the weekend to get their approval of the Democrats’ offer. He said personally he believes a direct vote “is the cleanest way,” and makes the issue “clear to the American people.”

A Senate Republican aide explained privately, however, that some Republicans want to make changes to Mr. Allard’s amendment, and Mr. Reid’s proposed agreement wouldn’t allow any changes. This might result in more Republicans voting against the amendment, the aide said.

“Not having any [changes] would be rough,” the aide said. “[Democrats] want to make it difficult.”

In addition to defining marriage, Mr. Allard’s proposal has a second sentence that reads: “Neither this 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.”

Proponents say this sentence allows states to sanction civil unions if they choose while preventing courts from mandating that they must do so. Opponents of the amendment have argued this sentence would prevent civil unions.

Some Republicans would prefer avoiding the civil union issue altogether and simply passing an amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, has an alternative proposal that would do this, although he is currently supporting Mr. Allard’s amendment.

During the opening day of debate yesterday, proponents of the amendment blasted Massachusetts’ legalization of same-sex “marriage” and warned that it is only a matter of time before same-sex couples “married” in Massachusetts file lawsuits forcing other states to accept their unions as legal.

A 1996 federal law is designed to protect states from being forced to accept same-sex “marriages” from other states, but Republicans warned that law is likely to be overturned.

“Absent an amendment to the Constitution, same-sex marriage is coming whether you like it or not,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. “It has become clear that the issue is a national issue and it requires a national solution,” said Mr. Frist, who agreed that a constitutional amendment is the only way.

Still, many senators remain undecided, skeptical or simply unwilling to say how they will vote on the amendment.

Mr. Allard and several family groups yesterday sought to sway those minds by delivering to Capitol Hill 1.4 million signatures of citizens who support traditional marriage. Another 1.2 million signatures are set to arrive early next week, Mr. Allard said.

Democrats have accused Republicans of playing politics by pushing the issue to the floor in an election year.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said yesterday the marriage issue shouldn’t be federalized and the Senate should turn to other, more pressing matters.

“For 225 years we left up to the states to define marriage,” he said on the floor. “All of a sudden we’re going to tell them they don’t know what they’re doing.”

  • James G. Lakely contributed to this story.

[Home] [News] [USA]