Justifications, Obfuscations and Wave of State Anti-Marriage Constitutional Amendments Cloud Defeat of Federal Marriage Amendment
'The message should have been that this year's election will not be won on our backs.'
Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director
Washington, DC - July 15, 2004 - Yesterday, as long expected, the "Federal Marriage Amendment" was killed in the U.S. Senate, failing to even garner the 60 votes needed to end debate, let alone the 67 votes it would need to pass in an up/down vote. Six Republicans joined all but three Democrats in defeating the motion for cloture 50 to 48. A majority of the entire Senate would have voted against cloture had either Sen. John Kerry or Sen. John Edwards been present for the vote. There is widespread agreement that the vote was a major embarrassment for President Bush, who made repeated calls for the Senate to pass the amendment, and a significant defeat for the religious right, which has poured millions into pro-amendment lobbying efforts.
Statement by Matt Foreman, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
"Yesterday's defeat of the 'Federal Marriage Amendment' in the U.S. Senate - even though long expected - is a welcome repudiation of the President's cynical attempt to bash the gay community to both appease and energize his far right base.
Our national community and its allies owes its thanks to the Democratic minority in the Senate for fulfilling its year-old pledge to kill the amendment, to the six Republican senators who broke party ranks, and to the many gay and straight organizations who have worked so hard on this, including the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, LLEGO, the National Black Justice Coalition, People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and so many, many more. We can and must savor this moment.
At the same time, there are many clouds over the vote. First, while every vote against the amendment is welcome, the vote was far from a ringing endorsement for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In fact, the statements made by so many senators to explain their votes were discouraging, frequently insulting, and denied many Americans the respect we are due. Some said the amendment was 'unnecessary' because the repulsive 'Defense of Marriage Act' already bans the recognition of same-sex marriage. Others said that marriage has always been a 'state rights issue' and should be left to the states to work out. Others said they objected to amending the U.S. Constitution to address any social issues. Still others objected because they saw the amendment as 'divisive,' or politically motivated, or an attempt to distract the nation and the Congress from other, more important matters. Over and over again we heard even our staunchest allies repeating ad nauseam the mantra, 'I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman' or the ever-popular, 'While I do not support gay marriage,' not a single Senator stood up and said he or she was voting against the amendment because marriage is a fundamental right that same-sex couples should enjoy under the Constitution. If the Senate actually reflected and articulated the views of the American public, at least one-third of them would have actually argued for marriage equality and the basic rights of all Americans.
Second, even though yesterday's vote was technically procedural, (i.e., whether to stop debate), six Republican Senators crossed party lines to vote on our side - even though party unity on procedural votes is expected. Sadly, the Democratic Party's nominees for President and Vice President skipped the vote - though, thankfully, they said they would be present if there was a vote on the amendment itself. Had they come for yesterday's vote, a majority of the Senate - a much more powerful block of 52 members -- would have voted against the amendment. This missed opportunity for bringing to bear the full weight of the Senate could have sent a strong message to the U.S. House and to the over one dozen states who will have State Constitutional amendments on the ballot this November. The message should have been that this year's election will not be won on our backs.
Third, it goes without saying that the fight in Congress is far from over. The right wing will be sure to haunt Senators for their vote-explaining statements not being anti-gay enough. And Members of Congress may bow to the pressure from the right instead of doing their jobs to represent all Americans. For example, the House of Representatives is taking up a bill called the "Marriage Protection Act of 2003," (H.R. 3313) which seeks to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.