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Today, for the second time in two years, a constitutional amendment to define marriage could not get past a filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Proponents portrayed the constitutional amendment as a defense of marriage, an institution they see as imperiled by same-sex unions. Opponents called the amendment nothing more than election-year pandering.
More from NPR's David Welna, at the capital.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
It was the Senate's Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist who decided his fellow senators returning from a ten-day recess should spend the first half of this week arguing about a measure he and everyone else knew had no chance, a constitutional amendment requiring 67 Senate votes that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Frist is retiring from the Senate this year and he's been courting religious conservatives aggressively for a possible presidential run. On the floor today, Frist warned that gay marriage may erode religious freedoms.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): We don't know yet the range and extent of the religious liberty conflicts that would arise from the imposition of same-sex marriage laws, but we do know that the implications are serious, that religious expression will be challenged and that it is a matter of deep public concern. And that is why we seek action in the United States Senate on this important issue.
WELNA: Banning same-sex marriage may well be an issue of deep concern to some Americans, but the Gallop poll this spring found it ranked Number 33 among the issues Americans wanted Congress to address. The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said what's really going on is that Republicans frightened by plunging poll numbers are turning to wedge issues to pump up support.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): This is not about the preservation of marriage. This debate is about the preservation of a majority. The Republican majority believes that if they can bring these issues, which fire up their political base, to the floor that they will have better luck in the November election.
WELNA: And Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, himself a presidential hopeful, pointed out that there are already millions of families in America headed by same-sex couples. Feingold pleaded with his colleagues not to demonize and scapegoat them.
Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): Let's allow, in fact, let's encourage states to extend rights and responsibilities to these decent, loving, law-abiding families. We can start today by rejecting this unnecessary, mean-spirited and poorly drafted constitutional amendment.
WELNA: Only 49 Senators voted to cut off debate on the amendment, 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster and 18 short of the 67 votes needed to approve it. It was also only one vote more than proponents mustered two years ago, even though Republicans hold four more seats now than they did then. Seven Republicans, including two who'd previously supported a vote on the amendment, voted against it today. Colorado Republican Wayne Allard, who sponsored the measure, admitted this was less support than he'd counted on.
Senator WAYNE ALLARD (Republican, Colorado): Well we were hoping to get over 50 percent, but that didn't happen today. You know, we're content that we've got our margins to grow.
WELNA: But Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, another presidential hopeful, said the push to pass the amendment is far from over.
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): We're making progress and we're not going to stop until marriage between a man and a woman is protected.
WELNA: After today's vote, the Senate moved on to another measure with few prospects of passing, permanent repeal of the Estate Tax. A vote to cut off that debate is scheduled for tomorrow.
David Welna, NPR News, the capital.
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