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GOP Senate leaders mull gay marriage vote

Senate supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage said Monday they will press for passage, brushing aside mixed signals from the Bush administration on the issue’s importance at the start of its second term.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage said Monday they intend to press for passage in the new Congress, brushing aside mixed signals from the White House on the issue’s importance at the start of President Bush’s second term.

“Who’s to say whether we have enough votes or not,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., noting that the new two-year Congress has just begun.

He said he expects GOP leaders to call for a vote before the 2006 elections and added, “I think it would be foolhardy to back off when we’ve got a good head of steam coming out of the election.” The amendment fell far short of passage a year ago.

The amendment states that marriage “shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman,” adding that no state would be required to give legal recognition to same-sex marriages sanctioned by any other state.

Issue dominated some races
Vote counters on both sides of the issue agree that Senate backers of the amendment picked up support in the 2004 elections, and the presence of Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at the news conference underscored that. Last fall, Thune defeated former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle — who had opposed the amendment.

“There were a lot of races ... where this issue was prominent,” Thune said.

Supporters of the amendment mustered only 48 votes last year on a procedural motion needed to keep the proposal alive in the Senate. A two-thirds majority is needed for passage.

Most Democrats signaled their opposition to the measure on the vote, and Bush and others have said it’s unlikely there will be much of a change in senatorial sentiment unless there is a court ruling requiring one state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another.

There was no immediate evidence of a switch among opponents, though. “The Democratic Party is still opposed to this amendment,” said party chairman Terence McAuliffe. “It is wrong to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, and it is shameful for Washington Republicans to attack gay and lesbian families for purely political reasons.”

But Allard said he thought some opponents might reconsider more quickly in the wake of last fall’s elections. “I know the Democrats are re-evaluating their position on a number of social issues, and I’ll bet this is one of those issues,” he said.

Ideology vs. ‘legislative reality’
In addition to the impact the issue had in congressional campaigns, voters in 13 states approved ballot initiatives last year that were backed by gay marriage opponents.

Bush pushed hard for a vote in both houses of Congress on the amendment during last year’s election campaign. This year, he said in a Washington Post interview he will not lobby the Senate to pass the amendment, adding there are not enough supporters to approve the measure. When social conservatives complained, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush was talking about the “legislative reality,” and will continue to push for the ban.

White House strategist Karl Rove did not mention the issue when he spoke to GOP lawmakers earlier this winter and laid out the president’s top priorities.

Nor did the GOP leadership include the measure on its list of top 10 legislative priorities for the next two years, an agenda topped by Bush's call for landmark Social Security legislation and an overhaul of the tax code. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the measure was omitted because it is an amendment rather than traditional legislation, and said he hoped it would pass.