In all the furor over President Bush's veto of the stem cell research funding bill, an important vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday has largely been overlooked by the media and the public.
A proposed Constitutional amendment to define the insitution of marriage - generally viewed as banning gay marriage - was up for a vote in the House and failed to get the 2/3 majority necessary for passage by a solid 45 votes.
This same amendment has been proposed and defeated three times before. It did better by a few votes this time, though still falling well short of the needed votes for passage.
The amendment would have both defined marriage to “consist only of the union of a man and a woman” and declared that the Constitution could not be used as the basis of any claim that marriage should be “conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”
Opponents of the amendment hailed the defeat of the amendment as a major victory. Joe Salmonese of the Human Rights Campaign commented:
“A bipartisan group of Representatives today rejected the politics of discrimination and stood up for the American value of fairness. More and more Americans are beginning to understand that same-sex couples and their children deserve to be treated equally under our nation’s Constitution, nothing more and nothing less.”
Gay marriage opponents also claimed a qualified victory based on a slightly better show of votes over their last attempt and vowed to continue to try to limit gay marriage on the state level and to bring the amendment up again in Congress. House Speaker Dennis Hastert commented “be assured, this issue is not over.”
Although 19 states have banned gay marriage in the last 8 years, of the 11 states to consider bans in the past year 8 rejected banning gay marriage. In addition, polls suggest that opposition to gay marriage which had been strong is gradually eroding. Recent polls in New Jersey, and Wisconsin show voters almost equally divided on the issue. The same polls show about 2/3 of the public supporting gay civil unions equivalent to marriage in all but name.
This suggests that despite efforts by the extreme right, if gay advocates were to pursue the moderate course of civil unions without insisting on the relatively meaningless label of 'marriage' they could win a genuine and definitive victory that only something like the apparently unpassable Federal Marriage Amendment could interfere with.