Early push for constitutional amendment falls short
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage foundered Wednesday afternoon when the proposal failed to garner enough votes in the Senate to stay alive.
After final arguments by the leaders of each party, Republicans mustered 48 votes, 12 short of the 60 they needed to overcome a procedural hurdle and move the proposed amendment to the floor.
"In 217 years, we've only amended that sacred document 17 times," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, before the vote. "There have been 11,000 separate attempts."
Daschle said no urgent need exists to amend the Constitution now.
But Sen. Bill Frist disagreed. "It has become clear to legal scholars ... that same-sex marriage will be exported to all 50 states," said the majority leader, from Tennessee.
"Will activist judges not elected by the American people destroy the institution of marriage, or will the people protect marriage as the best way to raise children? My vote is with the people."
Republicans originally had expected they would win a majority, if not the 67 votes required for the 100-member body to pass a constitutional amendment.
In doing so, they were seeking to force the Democrats' presumed presidential ticket -- Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina -- to go on the record in opposition to the amendment.
But in the last two days, a number of Republicans indicated they wouldn't vote for the measure, leaving GOP leaders red-faced over their failure to muster support.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona broke forcefully with President Bush and the Senate GOP leadership Tuesday evening over the issue, taking to the Senate floor to call such a constitutional amendment unnecessary -- and un-Republican.
"The constitutional amendment we're debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans," McCain said. "It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."
McCain also said the amendment "will not be adopted by Congress this year, nor next year, nor any time soon until a substantial majority of Americans are persuaded that such a consequential action is as vitally important and necessary as the proponents feel it is today."
"The founders wisely made certain that the Constitution is difficult to amend and, as a practical political matter, can't be done without overwhelming public approval. And thank God for that," he said.
McCain sided with opponents of the amendment on the procedural vote.
Bush, who defeated McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, has championed the amendment, saying it is necessary to defend the institution of marriage from "activist judges."
Social conservatives have been pushing hard for the measure since May, when Massachusetts' highest court legalized same-sex marriages in the Bay State.
But McCain argued that there are "far less draconian" remedies, including the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- which defined marriage for purposes of federal law as a union between a man and woman and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states -- and state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
He said if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down DOMA or "state remedies to judicial activism fail," then amending the federal Constitution might be "appropriate." But he said the Massachusetts decision to legalize same-sex marriages does "not represent a death knell to marriage."
"What evidence do we have that states are incapable of further exercising an authority they have exercised successfully for over 200 years?" McCain said. "We will have to wait a little longer to see if Armageddon has arrived."
Kerry and Edwards weren't on hand for Wednesday's procedural vote. Kerry was in Boston, and his running mate was campaigning in Iowa.
The amendment, as originally proposed by Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, would have added these two sentences to the Constitution:
"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this 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."
Some Republicans objected to the second sentence, saying it was so ambiguous that it also could prevent states from allowing gays and lesbians to join in civil unions.
Democrats blocked a last-ditch effort by Republicans to bring up a second version of the amendment that might have garnered more support.
Still, Republicans have vowed that they will make same-sex marriage a political issue.
CNN's Craig Broffman and Ed Henry contributed to this report.
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