By Jonathan Allen - 06/08/06 12:00 AM EDT
Two Republicans yesterday reversed course on whether the Senate should vote on gay marriage, denying supporters of a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman the ability to claim the backing of a majority of the full Senate.
Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) voted to have a roll call on the amendment two years ago, but they were among the 48 senators who voted against cutting off debate yesterday.
“I think it should remain with the states,” Gregg said. “It’s probably not time to amend the Constitution on this issue.”
The vote on invoking cloture was 49-48. It would have taken 60 votes to end debate.
Proponents never expected to reach the cloture threshold, but they wanted to crack the 50-vote mark. A two-thirds majority would have been required to pass the amendment.
Republican leaders hope that even in defeat the hot-button political issue will help them regain their footing with social conservatives, many of whom see it as a top agenda item.
“Today the U.S. Senate voted against marriage and against the American people,” said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. “This Senate is grossly out of step with the American people.”
But Democrats, and some Republicans, said that the move could hurt the GOP among voters who disagree with the amendment or see it as a low priority.
The amendment will be back, said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).
“We’re not going to stop until marriage between a man and a woman is protected,” he said.
Conservatives saw progress in a one-vote increase over the 48 senators who backed cloture in 2004. But liberals noted that the net addition of four Republican senators after the 2004 election yielded just one more vote for cloture.
“President Bush and the Republican leadership gambled their dwindling political capital on a discriminatory amendment and came up empty,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which is a gay-rights advocacy group.
Democrats, nearly all of whom voted against cloture, argued that Republican leaders were ignoring more pressing national concerns to pander to social conservatives.
“The American people are looking to all of us in Congress for help on the enormous challenges we face as a nation — the war in Iraq, threats to our national security, skyrocketing gas prices, soaring healthcare costs, preparations for the new hurricane season and so many other urgent issues,” said Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D).
One House Republican who asked to have his name withheld because of the political sensitivity of his comments agreed that voters have higher priorities.
“Even Christians are going, ‘Huh?’” he said.
But many Republicans say they want to act quickly because they fear courts may someday make gay marriage legal nationwide.
“For thousands of years, marriage — the union between a man and a woman — has been recognized as an essential cornerstone of society,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
“We must continue fighting to ensure the Constitution is amended by the will of the people rather than by judicial activism.”
Seven Republicans — Gregg, Specter, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John McCain of Arizona and John Sununu of New Hampshire — voted against cloture.
Democrats Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) voted for cloture, as they did in 2004.