Urged on by a President who published reports say doesn’t really care that much about the issue, the Senate on Monday debated a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that both backers and opponents say has no chance of passage.
President George W. Bush, speaking out again on the hot-button election-year issue, and other advocates said the amendment would prevent “activist judges” from striking down existing state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage.
But Bush is pushing an amendment that does not have the votes to pass in either the House or Senate and one that his friends say is not really that important to him. A published report in Newsweek magazine quotes a friend of the President as saying he doesn’t think Bush “gives a shit” about gay marriage or the need to stop it.
Opponents said the measure was a transparent attempt to shore up support among social conservatives before November’s congressional election, in a similar manner to the 2004 presidential campaign, when Congress should be dealing with issues like high gasoline prices and the war in Iraq.
“The reason for this debate is to divide our society, to pit one against another,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said.
“It’s this administration’s way of avoiding the tough, the real problems that American citizens are confronted with each and every day.”
Bush pressed the issue before supporters at the White House.
“State legislatures are trying to address this issue, but across the country they are being thwarted by activist judges who are overturning the express will of their people,” he insisted at the news conference.
The daughter of Bush’s vice president, Mary Cheney, was on record criticizing such moves.
“The notion of amending the Constitution and … writing discrimination into the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong,” she said in a recent interview with CNN.
The bill is not expected to win the 67 votes required for passage of constitutional amendments in the 100-member Senate. Bill sponsor Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard has said he expects to attract 52 votes.
Because the measure seeks to change the Constitution, it faces the steep hurdle of winning passage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives by a two-thirds majority and then winning approval from at least 38 of the 50 U.S. states.
A gay-marriage ban failed in both houses of Congress in 2004.
Gay marriage has been a hot topic since a Massachusetts court ruled in 2003 that the legislature could not ban it, paving the way for the first U.S. same-sex marriages in 2004.
Forty-five states have passed laws or amended constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. Aside from Massachusetts, where gay marriages are fully recognized, six states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex couples some legal protection.
Allard said his amendment was necessary to prevent courts from overturning state laws, many enjoying broad public support. Legal challenges to gay-marriage bans are pending in nine states.
The Senate is expected to vote on Wednesday. The House will likely take it up before the August recess, a spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner said.
Several religious leaders joined Allard to argue that the ban is needed to counteract an array of social ills, from rising divorce rates to out-of-wedlock births. “Americans want our laws to send a positive message to our children,” said Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage Foundation.
The conservative Traditional Values Coalition said it opposes the ban because states could enact civil unions and other forms of “counterfeit marriage” for same-sex couples.
Opponents said it would trample states’ rights and enshrine discrimination into the legal bedrock of the United States.
“Discrimination never belongs in the Constitution,” said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.