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Inside Politics

Senate debates same-sex marriage

Both sides reach for support across political divide


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Lynne Cheney and her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney, in an April 2003 photo.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The politically charged issue of same-sex marriage took center stage in the Senate on Monday as debate continued on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to forbid gay or lesbian couples from marrying.

Conservative Republican supporters touted support from black religious and civil rights leaders.

Opponents unveiled an ad campaign featuring prominent conservatives critical of the proposal, including the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.

As the debate, which began Friday, moved toward an expected vote later in the week, one supporter of the amendment, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, conceded his side was still well short of the votes needed for approval.

"I don't think anybody's really been able to get a good hard count, but I would say it's probably in the range of 50 votes," he said.

A constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to pass. Then the proposal would need the approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures to be ratified.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California chided supporters for bringing up such a contentious measure in the heat of an election campaign that they know will not pass.

"I celebrate marriage. I understand the difficulties in working to keep it together," she said. "But I really believe that this is a waste of time. The votes are not present to submit this amendment to the states."

Opponents of the measure complain that it usurps the power of states to regulate family law and enshrines discrimination against homosexuals into the Constitution.

Further, they say, the Senate has more pressing priorities as it heads toward its summer recess.

But Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said that "my office is getting more calls on this issue than anything that I've had since I've been in the U.S. Senate."

The amendment -- co-sponsored by 18 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia -- would add these 53 words 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."

Possible campaign issue

In May, Massachusetts became the first jurisdiction in the United States to allow same-sex couples to legally marry after the state's highest court ruled prohibitions on such marriages were unconstitutional.

That ruling, coupled with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, galvanized social conservatives to push for the amendment.

President Bush has championed the amendment, saying it is necessary because of attempts by "activist judges" to redefine marriage.

His Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, oppose the proposed amendment, although both say they also oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

Kerry and Edwards are expected to leave the campaign trail to return to Washington to vote against the amendment when it comes up for a vote, which could be as soon as Wednesday.

Republicans believe those "no" votes will hurt the Democratic ticket among culturally conservative voters.

Michael Meehan, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, said Republicans "want to have a political, divisive, wedge-issue discussion," rather than focus on more important issues.

"They can't pass a budget. They can't give us more money for port security or bioterrorism or rail security," he said.

Blacks split on issue

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee held a news conference at the Capitol flanked by several prominent black civil rights leaders and representatives of several large black religious denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Church of God in Christ.

Among those in attendance were Walter Fauntroy, the District of Columbia's former congressional delegate who was an associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.

Some civil rights groups, such as the NAACP and National Urban League, have come out against the amendment. But Innis -- echoing the split over the issue in the black community -- rejected comparisons made by gay rights leaders between their struggle and the fight for black equality.

"While I will fight for the individual right of anyone of any particular lifestyle, I will not equate and elevate to the same moral high ground that we had in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s," he said.

"It is not for those of a lifestyle choice to mandate to the rest of us and to change our basic institution. Marriage is that basic institution."

Opponents take out ad

The Campaign to Protect the Constitution unveiled an advertisement that will run Tuesday in three publications titled "True Conservatives Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment," containing quotes from five conservatives who have questioned the proposal.

The five are syndicated columnist George Will; former Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who was the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act; former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming; Lyn Nofziger, press secretary to former President Ronald Reagan -- and Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president and mother of a lesbian.

The quotation from Cheney used in the ad came from her appearance Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition" in which she said she agreed with her husband's comments during the 2000 campaign that the issue should be left to states -- a stance he has since reversed.

"I thought that the formulation he used in 2000 was very good: First of all, to be clear that people should be free to enter into their relationships that they choose, and, secondly, to recognize what's historically been the situation -- that when it comes to conferring legal status on relationships, that is a matter left to states," Mrs. Cheney said.

"Of course, what's happened is we're in a situation now where the ability of states to do that has been called into some question by the actions of the court in Massachusetts."

Mrs. Cheney stopped short of saying she opposed the amendment, saying the debate over the amendment "will give us an opportunity to look for ways to discuss ways in which we can keep the authority of the states intact."

The ad will run Tuesday in the Washington Times, Roll Call and The Hill.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.


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