WASHINGTON – Rejecting a measure that President Bush called vital to protect traditional marriage, the Senate on Wednesday refused to consider a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

The 50-48 procedural vote, largely along party lines, essentially ended any chance that Congress would vote to amend the Constitution in this election year to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Bush, who announced his support for the amendment in February, said he was “deeply disappointed that the effort to pass a constitutional amendment … was temporarily blocked in the Senate.”

Seeking to downplay the defeat, the amendment’s supporters said they never expected to get the amendment passed, and they vowed to renew efforts to amend the Constitution after the election.

“We never anticipated to have just one vote on this issue,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.,one of the main proponents of the amendment. “As we move forward, we will have more votes in the following year.”

Still, the failure to get even a simple majority on a procedural vote to advance the bill – 60 votes were required – was a striking defeat, given that a week ago backers hoped to use the vote to illustrate the breadth of support for the measure.

It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate, or 67 of 100 senators, to approve a constitutional amendment, followed by a similar vote in the House. Then the measure must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Senate Republicans began pushing for the amendment several weeks ago, leading some Democrats to claim that the GOP was simply seeking to embarrass them and their presumptive presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Kerry and his designated running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., say they oppose gay marriage but believe it is unnecessary to amend the Constitution to ban it.

Kerry and Edwards had said they would take a break from campaigning to vote against the proposal, but they did not return to Washington because the Senate never made it beyond the procedural vote.

Wednesday’s debate featured impassioned oratory on both sides.

“The constitutional amendment we are debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed, and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them.”

McCain was one of six Republicans who voted against the measure, along with one independent and 43 Democrats. Voting to break the filibuster were 45 Republicans and three Democrats.

The amendment’s supporters said recent court decisions show that judges are on the verge of requiring states to allow gay marriages, despite the opposition of most Americans.

“I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance, because the future of marriage hangs in the balance,” said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a leading backer of the amendment. “Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?”

But Wednesday’s vote suggests that conservatives may have miscalculated support for the amendment in Congress and among the public, analysts said. The vote presented a difficult political choice for conservatives hesitant to interfere in what traditionally has been a state issue.

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While most Americans oppose gay marriage, a majority are also uncertain whether to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, with support as low as 36 percent and as high as 60 percent, according to various polls.

“This was an attempt to divide Americans that backfired and divided Republicans,” said Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. “This debate has always been about politics, and undermining the Constitution is their tool.”

Democrats also contended that Republicans brought up the issue to distract voters from more important issues such as war in Iraq and terrorism.

“The floor of the United States Senate should only be used for the common good, not issues designed to divide us for political purposes,” Kerry said in a statement. “Had this amendment reached a final vote, I would have voted against it, because I believe that the American people deserve better than this from their leaders.”

It is not clear if the House will consider the marriage amendment this year, but Bush urged the chamber to do so.

“Activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America, and neither should defenders of traditional marriage flag in their efforts,” Bush said.


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