Senate to Vote on FMA in July

By Bob Roehr

WASHINGTON, DC - Senate Republicans announced that they will schedule a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) in mid-July, just prior to the Democratic National Convention.

"This was an issue that was thrust upon us by the Massachusetts Supreme Court," Texas Sen. John Cornyn asserted at a June 18 news conference. "We didn't pick the battle, we didn't pick the timing." But most political analysts disagree, saying it is all about politics.

Cornyn, as chair of the subcommittee on the Constitution in the Judiciary Committee has chaired three hearings on amending the U.S. Constitution to bar marriage for same-sex partners. However the latest hearing has been delayed twice, with no explanation, and is now scheduled for June 22. Some have speculated that it is because of the reluctance of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to testify on what increasingly is seen as a losing political issue.

"We're not certain we we'll be successful in this effort," Cornyn admitted. Amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds vote by each house of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. An amendment to ban burning of the American flag in protest has languished in Congress for decades with a majority but not the two-thirds support necessary to send it on to the states.

It may well be that the FMA does not even have simple majority support in Congress.

The latest tally by the right-wing Focus on the Family, a major proponent of the FMA, shows only 30 Senators firmly behind it, while 47 are on record as opposing it, and 23 are undecided. Six Republicans are opposed and fourteen are listed as undecided.

Senate Democratic leaders have assured gay organizations that they are united in opposition to the amendment and only the retiring conservative maverick Zell Miller (Georgia) is listed as among the supporters of the FMA.

But there is growing talk that Democratic Leader Tom Daschle is considering voting for the FMA, to help his own reelection bid. And if he votes for the FMA, numerous other Democrats may follow.

A spokesman for John Kerry said they did not know if the Senator would be present or on the campaign trail when the vote takes place. Kerry was away when the Senate recently voted on hate crimes legislation that included gays, and in April when the huge rally for a woman's right to choice took place in Washington.

"If he's not there to vote against this, I think we're done with his campaign. Who needs him," said Chicago political consultant and Democratic fund raiser Michael Bauer.

But, if the Democratic pledge holds up, and those Republicans who say they oppose the FMA vote that way, then the amendment will fall short of even a simple majority.

It is not that the country embraces marriage for same-sex partners, polls show that a clear majority of Americans continue to oppose the idea, though that opposition has abated somewhat. Those same polls show even stronger majorities are opposed to amending the Constitution for that purpose.

While James Dobson and his allies on the Christian right have been vociferous in pushing for the FMA, the message has not resonated in the pews. Constituents are not calling their members of Congress on this issue. "Standing on Capitol Hill listening, you don't hear anything," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council told the Washington Post in a June 20 article.

Even Sen. Cornyn admits, "So far, it's really been a top-down issue. What it's going to take is some more bottom-up concern about whether people are losing control of their lives."

George Barna, an evangelical pollster who focuses on that community offers this explanation, "Because most churchgoing people do not have a Biblical worldview, they're not convinced there is a right position on this issue; and because most would contend it does not affect them personally, they're not as likely to get worked up about it as evangelical leaders had hoped."

"Do we really think that Jesus' primary concern in this election year would be a marriage amendment?" Rev Jim Wallis told the Post. Polling shows that the top issues among evangelicals mirror those seen in the broader community, with jobs, the economy, and Iraq topping the list, and marriage for same-sex partners at the bottom of the top twenty for most people.

Further undercutting the effort in support of the FMA is a draft for political action being circulated by the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 52 denominations and independent churches. It warns against becoming too closely identified with one political party.

Details of the document were first reported in the Los Angeles Times on June 20. It is being circulated for revisions and is likely to be adopted this fall.

Another factor is more than two dozen religious faiths stated their opposition to the FMA because it "reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation's many religious traditions."

Among those signing the joint letter to members of Congress, delivered on June 3, were the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, and several Jewish groups.

Gay organizations are urging members of the community to contact their Senators and ask them to vote against the FMA. It is not a matter of stopping the amendment from passing, it may be possible to generate a majority "no" vote to drive a stake through the heart of this attempt to enshrine antigay bigotry into the Constitution and kill any talk of the Federal Marriage Amendment for good.

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