GOP senators reintroduce marriage amendment despite Bush’s wavering

At a press conference on Monday, Republican Senate leaders announced their top ten legislative priorities—designated S.1 through S.10—for the next two years. Among them were privatized Social Security accounts, overhauling the tax code and extending Pres. George W. Bush’s tax cuts.

Notable for its absence was Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard’s proposed constitutional amendment to limit marriage in the United States to a man and a woman.

The day before, Allard had declared that the Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA) would be number one on the Senate’s list of priorities. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, explained that because the amendment was not traditional legislation, it would not be grouped along with proposals that would require the president’s signature to go into effect. Constitutional amendments, instead, must win a two-thirds margin in each house of Congress and then be approved by three quarters of the state legislatures to become effective.

Allard’s amendment did win, however, designation as S.J. Res. 1, which, according to Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Republican, means that the Senate leadership considers it of equal importance to the ten legislative priorities.

Frist is one of the co-sponsors of the proposed amendment.

This reintroduction of the MPA, in a press conference that included Allard and other conservative Senate Republican stalwarts such as Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum and Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, came just over a week after Bush angered many conservatives in an interview he gave the Washington Post published on January 16.

In that interview, Bush said he didn’t expect the marriage amendment to make any headway in the Senate because most legislators saw it as unnecessary as long as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remained constitutional.

DOMA was enacted and signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii might be moving toward legalized same-sex marriage. DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages as well as giving states the right to similarly refuse recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.

When asked directly if he’d be willing to spend some of his vaunted political capital to make sure a constitutional amendment was introduced into the Senate, Bush instead deferred to the judgment of that body’s leaders, saying they had determined “nothing would happen” until DOMA was overturned.

In the wake of Bush’s comments, however, others in or close to the administration scrambled to ameliorate the impact of the president’s comments. Even before the Post published the interview, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the newspaper to clarify, insisting that the president was “willing to spend political capital” on Capitol Hill on the marriage amendment, even if the prospects for success while DOMA stands are dim. Dan Bartlett, a former communications chief for Bush who is now a senior counselor to the president, used identical language on several Sunday morning news programs.

Three days later, Ken Mehlman, who headed up Bush’s re-election effort, in a statement marking his start as head of the Republican National Committee, said, “We can deepen the GOP by identifying and turning out Americans who vote for president but who often miss off-year elections and agree with our work on behalf of a culture of life, our promoting marriage, and a belief in our Second Amendment heritage.”

Santorum, on the day the Post interview came out, appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and said, “I can tell you, I’m not going to break faith with social conservatives, and I know the president won’t either.”

Still, anti-gay advocates on the right are taking no chances. The New York Times reported this week that the Arlington Group, an umbrella body for 56 conservative pro-family organizations, including the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, which claims to represent 60 million people, sent a letter to Karl Rove, Bush’s top political advisor, warning that the president’s “defeatist attitude” toward a federal marriage amendment had jeopardized their members’ support for Bush’s initiative aimed at privatizing Social Security.

Allard’s call for a new amendment might have offered some assurance to the Arlington Group leaders that their concerns are not secondary ones in the view of the Republican-controlled Senate. De Rocha seemed to contradict Bush’s statements to the Washington Post, saying that Allard intended to move now, because he was “concerned that the Full Faith and Credit clause would lead same-sex marriage to be imposed by judicial fiat rather through the legislature.”

Last July, the Senate debated Allard’s Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), as it was then called, for three days, before failing to clear it through a procedural vote, requiring a simple majority, that would have ended discussion and brought the measure up for a yes or no vote that has the two-thirds hurdle.

A similar amendment was defeated in September in the U.S. House of Representatives when backers failed to gather a two-thirds majority in favor of passage, though they did get more than half of all votes cast.

Allard, flanked by fellow Senate supporters of a constitutional curb on same-sex marriage, said at the press conference that the November elections had made him more confident the MPA would pass, and that the elections had also caused Democrats to re-evaluate their opposition. The presence of South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who in November defeated former Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle, a major FMA opponent, seemed intended to show what was at stake for Democrats opposed to Allard’s amendment.

This time around, Allard’s amendment has 21 co-sponsors, two more than last year, including all six Republican senators who won their seats from Democrats in November.

The MPA’s sponsors, however, acknowledged some of the same political reality to which Bush had pointed in his Washington Post interview.

“I think if we had the vote right now we’d come up short,” Santorum conceded.

At the news conference, Frist said that he had not set a timetable for the amendment’s consideration, but expects it will be considered by 2006.

The House of Representatives will also most likely take up the issue of gay marriage in the next year. The amendment defeated in the House last September was sponsored by Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican. She has promised to reintroduce it this year.

Rep. Jo-Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican, on January 6 reintroduced H.R. 72, a bill that would ban the District of Columbia from legalizing or recognizing same-sex marriage. A similar bill never came out of committee last year. The city’s home rule charter allows Congress to pass or repeal with a simple majority vote any law pertaining to the District.