Wednesday, July 19, 2006

House rejects Bush-backed bid to ban gay marriage

House rejects Bush-backed bid to ban gay marriage
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage but forced Democrats to stake out a position on the divisive issue before U.S. congressional elections.

The vote to approve the measure backed by President George W. Bush was 236-187, 46 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. Most Republican lawmakers voted for it and most Democrats against.

The religious right and other social conservatives vow to make same-sex marriage an issue in the November elections when control of the Republican-led U.S. Congress will be at stake.

With polls showing broad discontent with lawmakers, Democrats have accused Republicans of pushing hot-button issues like this one to try to rally their conservative base and divert attention from other matters like the Iraq war.

Last month, the Senate rejected constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and outlaw burning the American flag.

"This is about the Republican majority -- once again -- trying to divide and polarize the nation," said Democratic Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts, the only state to fully recognize same-sex marriage and where about 8,000 gay couples have wed since 2004.

The White House said in a statement backers were forced to take the action to try to stop "activist judges" from redefining traditional marriage.

"The administration believes that the future of marriage in America should be decided through the democratic constitutional amendment process, rather than by the court orders of a few," the White House said.

According to a June poll by the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, down from 60 percent in August 2004.

The survey also found that Americans rank many issues as more important, including the economy, war on terror, health care and education.

The House defeated the same proposal in 2004 on a vote of 227-186, and proponents said they were encouraged they gained ground this year.

"We knew from the beginning that this was going to take time," said Tom McClusky, a lobbyist with the conservative Family Research Council.

To become law, a proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate and then be ratified by three quarters of the states.

Forty-five states have passed laws or amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. The 1996 U.S. Defense of Marriage Act allows states to refuse to recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

In recent years, state judges have struck down five state gay-marriage bans, though three were reinstated on appeal. There are now court challenges in six states.

While Massachusetts fully recognizes same-sex marriage, six other states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex couples some legal protections.