While I find Christian dominionism to be as dreadful a notion as "white power," (both ideologies promote the idea that one group of people is somehow superior and entitled to hold a higher status and greater authority than the people whom it perceives as their inferiors) I cannot help but admire religious conservatives' dedication to their causes and their ability to motivate themselves into action.
The religious right is one of the most powerful of America's many and varied political movements and voting blocs because, while they make up just a little less than 10% of the population, nearly all of them vote.
What other group can get the executive and legislative branches of our government to sit up and beg, jump through hoops, and wag their tails in anticipation of a reward by simply threatening to stay home on Election Day 2006?
This week, our Senate wasted its time and energy debating the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have prohibited states from recognizing same-sex marriages, knowing that it had no chance whatsoever of passing.
President George W. Bush and our Senators performed a dog act just to placate religious conservatives who felt that their special interest in "protecting" the institution of marriage from gay and lesbian people who wish to enter into it had been ignored in favor of issues they deem less important such as the war in Iraq, the immigration controversy, the unstable price of gasoline, and spiraling federal spending.
A Predictable Ending
As anticipated by every pundit and politician possessed of a clue (including the amendment's supporters and sponsors), the FMA was soundly rejected by the Senate, who voted 49-48, on Wednesday, June 7, to limit debate and bring an up-or-down vote, which was 11 fewer than the 60 required, effectively killing the measure in the Senate for this year. The House of Representatives is expected to consider its own version of the FMA later this summer.
With the gain of four Republican seats since the FMA last came up for a vote, in 2004, proponents of the amendment had anticipated at least a 51-vote majority in the 100-member Senate. The 49 votes to keep the amendment alive were one more than the measure had previously received.
The proposed constitutional amendment needs two-thirds support in both the Senate and the House and ratification by at least 38 state legislatures before it can become law. Wednesday's final tally was 18 votes short of the 67 required.
Two Republicans, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, changed their votes from yes, in 2004, to no. A total of seven Republicans voted to kill the amendment: Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and John Sununu of New Hampshire. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), who was traveling with President Bush on Wednesday, did not vote.
Senator Gregg said that in 2004, he believed a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that recognized homosexuals' right to marriage in that state would undermine the authority of other states to prohibit such recognition.
"Fortunately, such legal pandemonium has not ensued," Mr. Gregg said. "The past two years have shown that federalism, not more federal laws, is a viable and preferable approach."
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat who supported the amendment. Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) voted "yes" on the motion to move forward with an up-or-down vote, but said he opposed the measure itself. Two Democrats, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and John Rockefeller of West Virginia, did not vote.
Senator James Jeffords, the independent from Vermont, also opposed cloture.
In a statement, President Bush said, "I thank the senators who supported this amendment, but I am disappointed the Senate did not achieve the necessary number of votes to move the amendment process forward," remarking that the vote was, "the start of a new chapter in this important national debate."
Mr. Bush also reiterated his position that, "Marriage is the most fundamental institution of our society, and it should not be redefined by activist judges," an obvious bow to the religious right's special interest in demonizing the one branch of government that cannot be trained to jump through political hoops in exchange for votes.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a likely 2008 presidential contender, offered his own version of that same song and dance, "For thousands of years, marriage — the union between a man and a woman — has been recognized as an essential cornerstone of society," he said. "We must continue fighting to ensure the constitution is amended by the will of the people rather than by judicial activism."
The amendment's supporters angrily denounced the Senate for not putting the amendment to an up-or-down vote.
Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women of America's Culture and Family Institute, said he was insulted by comments from some senators that gay marriage was not a pressing national issue. "There's nothing more important than protecting marriage and families, because without them the United States faces a bleak future in which government is daddy and mommy and the state keeps growing to pick up the pieces of the shattered social order," Mr. Knight said in a statement.
An advertisement by the Family Research Council, a socially conservative advocacy group, targeted Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton (D-New York), likely 2008 presidential candidates, declaring that "[They] are ignoring America on gay marriage."
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president, Dr. Richard Land, said, "Defenders of marriage owe a debt of gratitude to Majority Leader Bill Frist and the other senators who insisted over the objections of many of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this issue come to the floor for a vote. They should also draw encouragement that we did get one more vote than in 2004."
Dr. Land also remarked that, "They should be disgusted by the pathetic failure of the Senate to do far better on this issue than it did."
Matt Daniels, president of The Alliance for Marriage, which drafted the FMA, pledged to continue its effort. "Today's vote was an important step in the democratic process to protect the future of marriage for our children and grandchildren." Mr. Daniels said, "The future of marriage in America is a race between the courts and [the amendment]."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the Senate "grossly out of step with the American people" but added that "values voters" would work to elect candidates who support the amendment.
While a majority of Americans still defines marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, an ABC News poll released this week revealed that an equal majority opposes amending the Constitution for that purpose.