Amendment to bar gay marriage fails

Bill falls short of two-thirds majority in House

July 19, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A proposed constitutional amendment that would bar gay marriage failed to pass in the House yesterday, completing congressional debate on an issue that critics said was an election-year charade conducted to appease conservative voters.

The measure had failed last month to win the two-thirds majority needed for approval in the Senate. And vote-counters in both parties had predicted that it would fall well short of that threshold in the House of Representatives.

"We know this is not going anywhere; we know that it is merely a political exercise," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in criticizing House Republican leaders for scheduling a vote on the amendment.

Supporters, however, argued that lawmakers needed to be put on the record on the issue.

"The overwhelming majority of the American people support traditional marriage," said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican, the amendment's sponsor. "And the people have a right to know whether their elected representatives agree with them."

The amendment, which would have made any marriage other than one between a man and a woman unconstitutional, won majority support, 236 to 187. But the tally was 46 votes shy of the 289 needed to pass.

Voting in favor of the measure were 202 Republicans and 34 Democrats; 159 Democrats, 27 Republicans and one independent opposed it.

Supporters argued that "activist judges" who wish to legalize gay marriage pose a threat to traditional marriage.

"Marriage is not about love, it's about a love that can bear children," said Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican. "Marriage is about bringing the next generation along, and it works best when it's one mom and one dad."

Both houses rejected a similar constitutional amendment in 2004.

Yesterday's vote came in the wake of several recent court decisions at the state level that have been setbacks for advocates of gay marriage. New York's Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution did not grant same-sex couples the right to wed. And the high court for Massachusetts, the only state that allows gay marriage, ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment to bar future same-sex marriages can be placed on the ballot.

Overall, 45 of the 50 states have either state constitutional amendments barring gay marriage or state statutes outlawing same-sex weddings.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, defended the decision to bring the proposed federal amendment to a vote, saying it was an important part of his party's American Values Agenda heading into November elections.

Another piece of that agenda, a measure to protect the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance, is scheduled for a vote in the House today.

Opponents accused House GOP leaders of bringing up the amendment in an effort to drive turnout by conservative voters in November.

"Shame on this House for playing politics with bigotry," Nadler said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, accused Republicans of focusing on narrow "wedge" issues aimed at dividing the public instead of the broader problems facing the country.

All six House Democrats from Maryland -- Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen and Albert R. Wynn -- voted against the bill, as did Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, voted for it.

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