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Marriage amendment gains support in House; 236-187 majority vote still 47 short of two-thirds margin needed for passage

WASHINGTON (BP)–A constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman did not receive the two-thirds majority needed for passage in the U.S. House of Representatives July 18, but conservatives did pick up about 10 additional votes since the matter was addressed by the chamber in 2004.

The 236-187 vote in favor of the amendment was 47 votes short of the number needed to pass.

Though the proposal failed in the Senate six weeks earlier, House supporters said a vote was important so that citizens can know where their congressional leaders stand on the issue of “gay marriage” as the November elections loom.

“Polls show that the overwhelming majority of the American people support traditional marriage, marriage between a man and a woman,” Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R.-Colo., said during floor debate. “People have a right to know whether their elected representatives agree with them about protecting traditional marriage.”

Musgrave, in her first term in Congress, introduced the legislation in June with 130 cosponsors. The measure is part of an “American values agenda” that the House is considering this week, along with a stem cell bill and a Pledge of Allegiance protection bill.

Opponents of the marriage amendment included Rep. James McGovern, D.-Mass., who said he regretted that the bill even made it to the floor for a vote.

“This bill, to put it simply and bluntly, is about adding discrimination and intolerance to the United States Constitution,” McGovern said. “This is about the Republican majority once again trying to divide and polarize the nation. It’s about the Republican leadership taking something that should be about love and turning it into a weapon of hate.”

But Rep. Phil Gingrey, R.-Ga., said the marriage amendment would simply preserve marriage as it has existed for millennia.

“This amendment has nothing whatsoever to do with exclusion, but it has everything to do with protecting the traditional and historical definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman,” he said.

Gingrey later countered accusations that debate on the issue was a waste of time by saying, “It’s not all about money and how we spend it that we’re in this Congress but it’s also about values and how this great country represents them to the world, not the least of which is the Middle East.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the marriage amendment a Republican agenda to “distract and divide” with no prospects for success. Pelosi also said that what constitutes a family is an individual choice, not something to be sanctioned by legislators.

Rep. Robin Hayes, R.-N.C., spoke in favor of the measure, though he said he also was baffled that time on the House floor would need to be spent to address the issue of marriage.

“It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to such a time in our country that we must even debate this basic American value that marriage is defined as the union between one man and one woman,” he said.

“Some may question whether or not this issue warrants a federal debate and federal action,” Hayes added. “Unfortunately, certain courts in this land have answered that question as ideological judges threaten to undo the very fabric of our families by imposing their opinions and policies as the final say on what marriage means.”

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D.-Wis., said that by “bringing up this unnecessary and divisive amendment to write discrimination into the Constitution, the leadership of this House once again illustrates just how out of step Congress is with the rest of America.”

“America faces great challenges both at home and abroad,” the openly homosexual Baldwin added. “We’re confronted with record high gas prices, an endless and expensive war in Iraq, skyrocketing healthcare costs and a growing international crisis in the Middle East and North Korea. But the federal marriage amendment allowed under this rule of course does nothing to address these very pressing challenges.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D.-Mo., an ordained Methodist minister, said “the domain of the church is the place where definitions should be made with regard to marriage.”

“I resent a body of legislators telling me, a member of a denomination, that they will decide who can and who cannot get married. It is the responsibility of the church, not the government,” Cleaver said.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was pleased that House conservatives have gained a bit of ground on the issue of protecting marriage.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more votes in the House, but I’m encouraged that we got more votes this time than in 2004. In politics, you don’t eat an apple in one gulp,” Land said. “You eat it one bite at a time, and the pro-marriage forces took a little larger bite of the apple this time than the last time there was a House vote. If people continue to vote their values and elect people who represent those values, we’ll get more votes in the next Congress than in this one. That’s the way the system works.”

A September 2004 vote by the House on a marriage amendment was 227-186 in favor.

Last month in the Senate, the marriage amendment fell 11 short of the 60 votes needed to advance for a final vote.

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  • Erin Roach