Undeterred by a decisive defeat in the Senate, House Republicans are moving ahead with a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, forcing lawmakers to take a stand just months before the election.
The vote, scheduled for Tuesday, will occur in a week devoted to several priorities of social conservatives — what House GOP leaders call their "American values agenda." Also on tap are a pledge protection bill and several Republican-backed stem cell bills.
President Bush, under some pressure from conservatives to take a more active role in promoting their issues, spoke out for the gay marriage amendment several times before it was rejected in the Senate last month.
Changing the Constitution is necessary, he said in one of his weekly radio addresses, because "activist judges and some local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage in recent years."
Defeat of the amendment is once again a near-certainty. The Senate fell 11 votes short of the 60 votes needed just to advance the proposal to a yes-or-no decision. Two years ago, just before another election, the House came up some 40 votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to advance a constitutional amendment.
Opponents of same-sex marriage claimed success anyway. They argue that the 2004 vote was part of a successful campaign to rally conservatives and help win Bush's re-election. Proposals to ban gay marriage were on the ballots of 11 states, including Ohio, where a bigger than usual rural turnout swung the election to Bush.
"The more this issue is discussed, the more people understand the threat" posed by activist courts, said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. The votes in Congress give the majority of Americans who oppose gay marriage a chance "to look and see if the people in Washington represent them and stand on the same side," he said.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, an openly gay Democrat from Wisconsin, said the marriage amendment "certainly is a tool that the right wing is using, but I think it has lost the impact it had in 2004."
Baldwin said voters are more concerned about the war in Iraq, health care costs and gas prices and to a greater extent "are recognizing this time that these measures are politically motivated."
"We're heading into an election where the Republicans are in deep trouble," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group. "The outcome is not really a significant factor in all of this," he said of the House vote. "It's a move to appease a rapidly dwindling base."
The proposed amendment states that "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither the 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."
Twenty states already have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and 25 others have enacted statutes outlawing same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage, although the state's high court ruled this month that a constitutional amendment to ban future same-sex marriage can be placed on the ballot.
On Friday, a federal appeals court reinstated Nebraska's voter-approved ban on gay marriage and the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that voters should have a say on the issue. Opponents of gay marriage have also won recent court cases in New York and Georgia.
The actions at the state level reflect polls showing that a majority of Americans define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. But an ABC News poll that came out at the time of the Senate vote also found that a majority oppose amending the Constitution over the issue.
The Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights. In addition to winning two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate, an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.
The Senate last month fell just one vote short of the 67 needed to send a proposed constitutional amendment on flag desecration to the states.