Like Senate, House Fails to Pass Gay-marriage Ban
- President Bush, in a statement released after the vote, suggested that
the defeat marked the beginning of a bigger fight.
Like Senate, House Fails to Pass Gay-marriage Ban
By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
October 1, 2004
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The House of Representatives followed the Senate's
lead Sept. 30 in defeating a proposed constitutional amendment that
would ban marriage -- and, arguably, marriage-like benefits -- for
A House version of the Federal Marriage Amendment proposal failed to
receive the necessary two-thirds vote for passage, though it did
receive a majority of 227 to 186. Twenty-seven Republicans joined most
Democrats in voting against the amendment, while 36 Democrats crossed
the aisle to vote in favor of it.
A similar proposal failed a procedural vote in the Senate in July,
when supporters of the marriage ban failed to muster even a simple
Many Congress observers had predicted ahead of time that the House
vote would fail, and the earlier Senate failure led many Democrats to
accuse Republicans of playing election-year politics with the bill.
Even if it had passed the House, its defeat in the Senate means the
amendment almost certainly would have gone nowhere until next year.
"This is a partisan exercise to distract the American people from the
Republicans' record of failure," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.),
the House minority leader, during debate on the bill. "And it's
unworthy of a party that claims to be associated with Abraham
Many opponents of the proposal said it was designed to make
election-year life difficult for moderate Democrats who oppose the
amendment on principle. Prominent Religious-Right organizations have
announced that they will give heavy weight to House members' votes on
the amendment when compiling election-year "scorecards" to hand out in
But several recent court decisions on gay-rights issues forced the
House leadership's hand, Pelosi's Republican counterpart argued. "Many
of us in the House would prefer not to have this debate," said House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). "The question of the future of
marriage in this country has been forced on us by activist judges,
legislating from the bench."
DeLay referred specifically to a 2003 decision by the Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court that legalized same-sex marriage in that state.
As a result, the commonwealth became, in May, the first in the United
States to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
DeLay and other opponents of same-sex marriage argued that federal
lawsuits would ultimately lead to the invalidation of laws banning
same-sex marriage in other states -- meaning a federal constitutional
amendment is the only way to prevent the legalization of gay marriage
"Kids are what this debate is all about," said Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).
"It's not about civil rights or the rights of same-sex couples."
"A family is a man and a woman that can create children and rear
them," DeLay said. "There are wonderful families being raised by gay
people, there are wonderful families being raised by single moms. But
they are not the ideal."
The amendment's opponents, however, cited the arguments of many legal
scholars who said that, if enacted, the amendment could ban not only
marriage, but civil unions and other marriage-like legal relationships
designed to protect gay couples and their children.
The amendment, as proposed, read, "Marriage in the United States shall
consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this
Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to
require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon
any union other than the union of a man and a woman."
Gay-rights and civil-libertarian groups said the final vote vindicated
their work against the amendment.
"President Bush and the Republican leadership looked down the barrel
of the biggest defeat for anti-gay extremists ever," said Laura
Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington
office, in a statement released shortly after the vote. "They played
fast and loose with the Constitution in a cheap election year ploy,
and they lost. Like the Senate did before, the House today said that
discrimination has no place in the Constitution."
But the proposal's supporters vowed to bring it up again in the next
Congress. "This is only the beginning, I'm telling you, because this
body will protect marriage," DeLay said, to rare applause from the
House visitors' gallery. "We will take it from here, and we will come
back, and we will come back and we will never give up."
President Bush, in a statement released after the vote, also suggested
that it only marked the beginning of a bigger fight.
"Today, a bipartisan majority of U.S. Representatives voted in favor
of a constitutional amendment affirming the sanctity of marriage as a
union between a man and a woman," the statement read. "Because
activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are
seeking to redefine marriage for the rest of the country, we must
remain vigilant in defending traditional marriage. I welcome the
important debate underway across America on this issue."