US Senate blocks Bush-backed gay-marriage ban

The United States Senate blocked on Wednesday a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, defeating a measure strongly backed by President George Bush and Christian conservatives.

With a 49-48 vote, the measure fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to move to a formal vote in the 100-member Senate controlled by Bush’s Republican party.

“I thank the senators who supported this amendment, but I am disappointed the Senate did not achieve the necessary number of votes to move the amendment process forward,” Bush said in a statement.

Bush said the vote marked “the start of a new chapter in this important national debate”.

“Our nation’s founders set a high bar for amending our Constitution—and history has shown us that it can take several tries before an amendment builds the two-thirds support it needs in both houses of Congress,” he said.

Bush again criticised judges who have struck down laws restricting marriage to a union between a man and a woman in the states of Washington, California, Maryland, New York and Nebraska. Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage after its Supreme Court legalised it in May 2004.

“My position on this issue is clear: marriage is the most fundamental institution of our society, and it should not be redefined by activist judges,” Bush said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a likely Republican contender in the 2008 presidential election, remained upbeat in the face of the defeat.

“For thousands of years, marriage—the union between a man and a woman—has been recognised as an essential cornerstone of society,” he said. “We must continue fighting to ensure the Constitution is amended by the will of the people rather than by judicial activism.”

The House of Representatives is to address the issue next month.

With just five months before November legislative elections that are expected to be dominated by the war in Iraq, illegal immigration and soaring energy bills, Bush has called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Gay rights groups applauded the amendment’s defeat.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay rights group, said in a statement that the “Senate gave a resounding defeat to the voices of intolerance who are trying to use the constitution as a political tool”.

Senior Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy criticised Bush’s use of a constitutional amendment to push the issue.

“The Constitution is too important to be used for partisan political purposes.
It is not a billboard on which to hang political posters or slogans seeking to stir public passions for political ends,” Leahy said.

The passage of a constitutional amendment is unlikely because it must garner two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives—where Bush’s Republican party lacks the votes needed to win its approval—and then win passage from three-fourths of the 50 US states.

But with Bush’s approval ratings at dismal levels, political experts say Republicans need to rally as many of their conservative faithful as possible to prevent a potential loss of control of Congress in November elections.

The issue divides US society, but also the highest ranks of the Republican party.

The lesbian daughter of US Vice-President Dick Cheney has criticised the amendment as “discrimination”. Talking to Fox News Sunday last month, Mary Cheney (37) said it was “a bad piece of legislation”.

“It is writing discrimination into the Constitution and, as I say, it is fundamentally wrong,” she said.—AFP

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