By James Downing - 04/12/06 12:00 AM EDT
A majority of the Senate this year will support the Federal Marriage Amendment, an outcome that both the left and the right say will energize their respective bases in November.
In the summer of 2004, the effort to define marriage as between a man and a woman failed in the Senate, on a 48-50 vote. Now that Republicans have increased their majority, the amendment has collected more support. If all senators vote the way they did in 2004 and the freshmen vote as expected, the bill will attract 52 votes — well short of the 67 needed to amend the Constitution.
First-term Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have all co-sponsored the amendment. These four legislators replaced Democrats who voted against the amendment in 2004.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who won the seat vacated by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), has also co-sponsored the new legislation. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Edwards, who opted not to return from the campaign trail to vote on the amendment, are opposed to it.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) does not support the amendment. He won the seat of retired Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who voted for the 2004 amendment.
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) also plans to vote against the measure. He replaced Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), one of six Republicans who voted against it in 2004.
“I oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Salazar said in a statement. “I believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but the regulation of marriage has always been, and should remain, the jurisdiction of the states. We should not enshrine discrimination against any group in our Constitution.”
The amendment should come before the House in late July. In 2004 the House rejected it on a 227-186 vote, far short of the two-thirds necessary.
Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, said he believes that 52 senators will vote for the amendment. He added that getting a majority of the Senate will show that “momentum is growing” for defining marriage in heterosexual terms.
“Washington is still catching up to what is happening outside the Beltway,” Daniels said, citing a string of victories for his side at the state level.
The 48-50 vote in 2004 was not technically on the amendment itself. Instead, it was on a GOP motion to invoke cloture following a Democratic-led filibuster.
Jim Backlin, vice president of legislative affairs at the Christian Coalition, speculated that some Democrats up for reelection in red states may reject the filibuster this year, but others said such a change in position is unlikely.
Christopher Labonte, legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign, said that Republicans are still a long way off from getting the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.
Backlin said a vote would charge the conservative base, which now sees marriage as its most important issue. Right-wing groups have expressed their frustration that the Senate did not vote on more socially conservative bills last year.
Many gay-rights advocates share Salazar’s view of the amendment as an attempt to codify discrimination in the Constitution.
“The Constitution was never amended to take away rights from a group of Americans,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.
Wolfson called the amendment a ploy for short-term political gain; he said Republicans would use the amendment as a distraction and an attack point in some races this fall. He likened the marriage amendment to the Terri Schiavo case, adding that it would drive some voters away from the GOP.
Labonte said that a vote could drive more Democrats to the polls this fall, but he was quick to add that Republicans like Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) were also on his side. In addition to McCain and Campbell, the other Republicans who voted no in 2004 are Sens. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and John Sununu (N.H.).
Democrats who voted yes were Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) and former Sen. Zell Miller (Ga.).
A vote this year could help the Republican effort to turn out its base, but it will also provide fresh fodder for Steve Laffey, a conservative who is challenging Chafee in the Sept. 12 GOP primary. Chafee is also expected to attract criticism from the right when the Senate votes on the estate tax.