Religious right-backed marriage amendment fails in House vote.
The amendment, H.J.Res. 106, received a majority vote of 227-186 but fell far short of the 276 House votes required to pass a constitutional amendment. The GOP leadership supported the bill, and the tally generally followed party lines. Twenty-seven Republicans broke ranks to oppose the measure, while 36 Democrats supported it.
Had it passed, the amendment still would have had to have won a two-thirds vote in the Senate and achieve ratification by three-fourths of the states before becoming part of the Constitution.
President George W. Bush issued a statement expressing disappointment with the vote.
"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," Bush said.
Amendment backers knew that the FMA--renamed the "Marriage Protection Amendment" just before going to the floor--had no chance of passage. Observers said the carefully staged vote was an election-year ploy to give the Religious Right a "culture war" issue to use in the November elections.
Americans United blasted the stunt, noting that the amendment had already been voted down in the Senate in July. Given the Senate's rejection of the FMA, there was no compelling reason for the House to vote.
"The Senate has already sidetracked this divisive and unwise amendment," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The only reason for this vote is to give the Christian Coalition and similar groups another line item on their biased 'voter guides.'
"It's sad to see the House act at the behest of extreme groups like the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council," he said.
The constitutional amendment, which was heavily promoted by Religious Right organizations, would limit marriage to one man and one woman, reflecting evangelical church teaching. It is designed to outlaw same-sex marriages, but critics charge that it would also jeopardize civil unions and other legal protections.
During floor debate, proponents mostly avoided religious language and tried to portray the FMA as a necessary step to protect traditional marriage. But one member, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), wandered off message, citing the Book of Genesis and asserting, "God created Adam and Eve, He didn't create Adam and Steve."
Americans United says the proposal, introduced by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), is unnecessary. The watchdog group notes that some religious traditions recognize same-sex unions and some do not. The government, AU says, should not elevate the views and practices of certain faith groups over others.
Lynn noted that during a national meeting of the Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23-25, Coalition activists bragged that they would distribute millions of "voter guides" this year. In addition, the Family Research Council has pledged to include three FMA-related votes on its congressional scorecards this year.
These and other Religious Right groups, Americans United asserts, were eager to get a vote on the FMA, put the results on guides and scorecards and use them to try to tip the balance in close House races around the country.
A wide array of religious organizations oppose the amendment. Prior to the vote, more than two dozen faith groups sent a letter to House members, urging them to reject the FMA. Among the signers were: the Alliance of Baptists; the American Friends Service Committee (Quaker); the American Jewish Committee; the Episcopal Church, USA; the Loretto Women's Network (Catholic Order); the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the National Sikh Center; the Metropolitan Community Churches; the Office of the General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Union for Reform Judaism; the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries.