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GOP to force Federal Marriage Amendment vote in 2006

Melissa McEwan
Published: January 27, 2006

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A Republican effort to ban gay marriage nationwide will be returned to the Senate floor in 2006, RAW STORY has learned.

The Marriage Protection Amendment was originally introduced by Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) in 2003, and leveraged as a wedge issue by the GOP during the 2004 election cycle as a way of mobilizing its base to vote against same-sex marriage.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), a co-sponsor of the 2005 joint resolution, has confirmed that Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R- TN) will attempt to bring the controversial legislation to the floor this year for a full vote.


"Senator Bill Frist has indicated he will try to bring the Marriage Protection Amendment to a full vote again this year," Allard spokeswoman Angela de Rocha told RAW STORY. "Senator Allard believes that a constitutional amendment is the best way to make it crystal clear that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Senator Frist's office did not return a call seeking comment.

The proposal to amend the Constitution with a definition for what constitutes marriage became a central GOP platform issue after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state could not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry."

Although the primary concerns of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community are equal rights and protection under the law, including visitation, property and child custody rights, the GOP has successfully framed the legislation as a religious argument rather than a legal issue in order to fire up their base and rally them to the voting booths.

The November 2004 election saw 11 states -- championed by conservative groups like Focus on the Family -- approve constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. The concept of the nebulous "moral values" voter emerged as the reason given for the perceived mandate in President George W. Bush's reelection.

Yet what was seen as a moral victory by conservatives soon became a political bargaining tool, one that did very little to affect the stalled status of the once promised amendment that drove so many voters to cast their ballot.

According to a New York Times article from January 2005, the Arlington Group, a coalition of various conservative Christian groups, was concerned that the campaign promise of a marriage amendment banning same-sex unions was not the first priority on the President's agenda:

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said.

The public sentiment on same-sex unions differs greatly from the view of conservative groups pushing to amend the constitution. A Pew Research poll conducted in August of last year found that 53 percent of Americans polled supported civil unions, which would confer upon same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by married couples. Thirty-five percent favored gay marriage.

The Republican Party is likewise divided on the issue. . The emphasis on gay marriage and the "moral values" banner were conspicuously absent from the GOP's 2006 agenda outlined by President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff and Republican National Committee political advisor, Karl Rove, during his Jan. 20 speech at the winter meeting of the RNC.

In the Senate, John McCain (R-AZ) and John Sununu (R-NH) have also expressed an unwillingness to support a federal amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

Nonetheless, Dave Noble, Political Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, said the Taskforce is prepared for the GOP to make the amendment a campaign issue again this year.

"Congress has a terrible approval rating, and they need something to avoid talking about the issues that people want them to talk about," Noble says. "Wouldn't it be great to have people focus on same-sex marriage instead of the corruption issues facing Congress?"

Christopher Labonte, Deputy Political Director of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest gay lobby, agrees.

"This is always about politics; it's a wedge issue," Labonte says. "They know they don't have the votes, but they use it to avoid talking about what the American people really want to be talking about—security, healthcare, education."

After Senate Republicans' cloture motion to force a direct vote was defeated in July 2004 and House Republicans failed to secure the 290 votes required for adoption of the amendment in September of that year, the legislation was reintroduced in early 2005. In November, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution voted the Marriage Protection Amendment into the full committee by a vote of 5-4, positioning the legislation for a reemergence in time for this year's midterms.

As the Marriage Protection Amendment makes its way back into the public discourse, the HRC intends to "fight it just like we did last time," according to Labonte, "with a broad-based coalition and the American people."

Frist rejected the notion that the amendment is politically motivated during a June 2004 vote.

"That's the most common question: 'Why do you bring up the marriage amendment at this point in time?' And 'These are for political reasons, coming into the convention.' And the answer is 'Absolutely, no.'"

Frist cited the attempts of "activist judges" to redefine marriage, and the need "to protect marriage for what it's been in this country for hundreds of years."

Noble said gay rights groups intend to fight back.

He said a progressive coalition will mobilize to make calls and write letters, in combination with "a press campaign to make sure people know that this is nothing more than an attempt to pull wool over the voters' eyes."

"Democrats will hopefully see, like they did in 2004, that this is a trick by the GOP to distract from the real issues," he added.

He expects Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Harry Reid (D-NV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) will reiterate their opposition to the legislation.


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