Gay Marriage Amendment Fails in U.S. Senate

Madeleine Brand talks with NPR congressional correspondent David Welna about the U.S. Senate's attempt to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The amendment failed to pass on a procedural vote, 11 votes shy of the 60 needed to bring the issue to a full vote.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, tensions in a border town over illegal immigrants and a rising crime rate.

BRAND: First, though, the Senate this morning rejected a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Republicans failed to get the 60 votes needed.

NPR's David Welna has been following the debate on Capitol Hill, and he joins us now. And, David, this is not the first time the Senate has debated such an amendment. I believe about two years ago a similar ban went down to similar defeat.

So tell us about today's vote. Was it any different?

DAVID WELNA, reporting:

Well, only very slightly. Last time proponents of the same-sex marriage ban fell 12 votes short of getting the measure on the floor for full consideration. And today, they fell 11 votes short. That's a pretty bad outcome, I'd say, for those proponents who were predicting they'd pick up at least four more votes this time having won five more Republican seats in the Senate since the last time this was voted on.

And I think part of their failure to get even a majority of the votes in the Senate for this was because seven Republicans voted against it, including two, New Hampshire's Judd Gregg and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who previously voted for it.

And only two Democrats voted for the measure's full consideration, West Virginia's Robert Byrd and Nebraska's Ben Nelson. And both of them voted the same way two years ago. Both are up for reelection this year in states that voted for President Bush in '04.

Now, two Democrats who opposed the measure were absent today as was Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel who's often voted against the Bush administration. So I guess the outcome could have been even worse for the measure's backers than what they got today.

BRAND: And, David, do we know why the two Republicans you mentioned - Arlen Specter and Judd Nelson - voted against it this time, changed their minds?

WELNA: Arlen Specter is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And they debated this amendment in the Committee, and many committee members felt that the language of the amendment was extremely flawed. And Specter was one of them.

As for Gregg, I'm not sure. He didn't explain his vote. But he's from the northeast; many Republicans from the northeast oppose the measure.

BRAND: And the Republican leadership put this amendment on the agenda. Did it not read its members carefully enough?

WELNA: Well, I think that they didn't take into consideration the situation of many of the members of their caucus. For example, you have some moderate Republicans facing tough reelection fights this fall, such as Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, who voted against the measure.

And this does little to help people like Chafee try to convince his state's Independents and Democrats, who far outnumber Republicans, that they should keep Republicans in charge of the Senate when they're doing things like this.

And there are many other Republicans, such as Arizona's John McCain, who also opposed the measure, who don't want to alienate voters who support same-sex marriages. He's got his eye very much on the White House for 2008.

And even some of the conservative religious groups that this measure was clearly aimed at pleasing are saying this is simply a bone being tossed their way. And I think the vote tally today is likely to sharp their sense that Majority Leader Bill Frist, who's seeking their support for White House bid, has not done kind of the spade work in his caucus that was needed for a better outcome.

BRAND: Thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome.

BRAND: NPR's Congressional Correspondent David Welna.

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