July 21, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 29
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Constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples fails in the House
Constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples fails in the House
Vote fiercely partisan, viewed as political posturing

by Lisa Keen - SGN Contributing Writer

If there was any question that U.S. House's vote Tuesday on the anti-Gay marriage ban was purely an election year event by Republican leadership looking for fodder to stoke its political base, it came when the presiding chair announced that the measure had passed and the bill's Republican sponsor asked for a roll call vote.

Certainly Democrats would have asked for a roll call vote -to establish that the measure lacked the two-thirds vote necessary to pass. But it was Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) who registered the request.

David Smith, the Human Rights Campaign's Vice President of Policy and Strategy, called the Musgrave request "proof" of the political motivations behind the measure.

The roll call revealed that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban legal recognition of marriage "or the legal incidents thereof" to same-sex couples anywhere in the country had garnered even fewer votes this year than in 2004. A constitutional amendment needs 290 votes to pass in the House; it obtained 236 this week. That was nine more than in 2004 but still 54 short of what's required.

Voting was fiercely partisan, with only 34 of 199 Democrats who cast ballots voting to support the ban; and only 27 of 229 Republicans opposing it.

The debate in the House echoed the arguments in the U.S. Senate in June, when that body failed to garner the two-thirds necessary to proceed to consideration of the proposed amendment itself. But it included an unusually frequent vocalization of legislators' personal religious beliefs, with one Republican supporter saying that marriage was "created by god" and defined "by god" as being only one man and one woman.

Democrat Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Methodist minister from Missouri, took exception to the amendment on religious grounds, saying that marriage was a sacrament in the domain of the church.

"I resent a body of legislators telling me, a member of a denomination, that they will decide who can and cannot get married," said Cleaver, with anger in his voice. "If the government is going to become involved in this sacrament, then why not communion?"

In an interview with a Missouri newspaper before the debate, Cleaver, who is African American, said he gives Republicans credit for having "discovered that some African-Americans will abandon their concern about and interest in issues that impact their congregations in favor of a candidate who speaks in opposition to homosexuality."

After several Republicans claimed that the measure was necessary to "protect" heterosexual marriages, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the best known openly Gay legislator in Congress, challenged any legislator to step forward and explain how two men being in a committed marriage threatened their own heterosexual marriage. Initially, none took the bait; but eventually Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) stepped forward. But when Lungren's answer failed to address the question, Frank cut him off.

Frank also delivered a refined story he has told before -comparing the supporters of the marriage ban with a character in a V-8 Juice commercial. The character drinks a beverage, then slaps his forehead when he realizes -and declares- "I could have had a V-8!"

Marriage ban proponents, said Frank, are claiming there are millions of "happily married men all over America" who read in the paper that, in Massachusetts, same-sex couples can get married.

"And apparently, men happily married in Alabama" and other southern states, said Frank, "Look in the mirror and go, 'Wow, I could have married a guy!"

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the House's only openly Lesbian member, also spoke against the measure, calling it "hurtful" rhetoric to "pander" to conservative voters. Baldwin noted, among other things, that while supporters of the measure say the legislation is to protect marriage, it is written so as to eliminate legal benefits to Gay couples even through civil unions or other forms of relationships.

With some exceptions, the speakers supporters of the measure were usually Republicans from southern states and opponents were Democrats from other parts of the country.

One exception was Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democrat from Tennessee. Davis argued that the amendment "does not go far enough" to protect marriage. If the House really wants to protect marriage, he said, "go after the evils of divorce, adultery, and abuse." He suggested Congress outlaw divorce and make adultery and domestic abuse a felony.

Another representative from a southern state who opposed the measure was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). Noting that constitutional amendments in the past had "corrected the enslavement" of African Americans and protected rights, she vowed, "I will not stand here on the floor today and accept the responsibility of denying rights."

"It is wrong to deny rights to Americans," said Lee, "and I will not allow the flag to be desecrated by this amendment."

Virginia Democrat James Moran called the measure "crazy" and said it should be called the "Gay Discrimination Act."

And Republican Bob Inglis of South Carolina questioned "Why now?" and "Why this amendment?" Inglis said he agreed with Rep. Cleaver that "this is the church's business," but he said he would vote for the measure.

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