Home / Culture and Society / Senatorial Same-Sex Marriage Dog Act Disappoints Religious Conservatives

Senatorial Same-Sex Marriage Dog Act Disappoints Religious Conservatives

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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.

The Fallout

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.

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About Margaret Romao Toigo

  • Margaret,

    Good article.

    You know, it is this unwarranted power and influence that gets me so worked up when I hear Christian radio distorting science. You might dismiss them as the far right wing, a minority – but they are a very powerful minority.

  • Americablog did a post about the religious leaders who were hiding behind the cameras during the President’s speech. It was definitely all about pandering to that 10% of fundies who vote.

    I have to say that Democracy today definitely isn’t what I was taught it is, when I was young.

    I thought Democracy was about the voice of the People in conjunction with civil liberties and rights for all.

    Instead, Democracy today is the most unpopular leader in the history of the country going against the wishes of the majority, who want the Constitution left alone.

    So American Democracy today is about somebody Americans DON’T want to lead them, putting forth amendments, foreign policies and such, that Americans DON’T want in place, to satisfy a small group of elite bigots who do NOT represent American values.

    Crazy times.

  • Well, Future Geek, the reason why that particular minority is so powerful is because it is so highly motivated and almost 100% of it votes. They got the Senate to perform circus tricks for two days just by threatening to stay home on Election Day!

    The religious right acts as if they have never even heard of the concept of voter apathy and their substantial influence upon our politics — but not necessarily actual policy — is going to be around until more of us folks who object to their brand of puritanical, dominionist authoritarianism stop complaining about them and start studying their strategies and tactics, following their fine example of political activism, and voting.

    Voter turnout in the land of the free and the home of the brave is pathetic! About half of Americans who are eligible to vote, don’t.

    How many times have you heard the excuses that it doesn’t really matter because our votes don’t actually count in the Electoral College, that elections are “rigged” anyway, that all of the candidates appear to be the same variety of crooks and liars dressed in different colors, and/or that it’s too much work to stay informed amidst the foggy stench of the spin doctors’ bovine excrement?

    Amazingly, some of the people who make such excuses will also complain very loudly about the state of our nation and speak as if voter apathy is a form of political protest!

    We each have three people representing our interests in the Congress, two Senators and one Representative, and fewer than 25% of us can name all three, and even fewer actually take the time to let those good people know what’s on their minds.

    Sure, there are a few “bad apples,” such is the nature of politics, but most of them really do care about the interests of their constituents and they work very hard to those ends, according to the feedback they receive. And the culture warriors of the religious right do everything they can to make sure that they are heard, loudly and clearly.

  • M,

    I know what you are saying about voting. I managed a Get Out the Vote team in Minneapolis during the 2004 election.

    I still maintain that there is more to their disproportionate power than simple voting… they are excellent at motivating their base to vote because of their wealth and their aggressive promotion of their agenda. Preachers give political sermons from the pulpit, Christian radio networks buy up radio frequencies and sit on them so no one else can use them, etc.

    Have you heard about Justice Sunday? You might be interested in that.

  • Most of the religious right are actually far from being wealthy and do not realize that they often vote against their own economic interests when they base their votes purely upon certain social issues.

    The media and the pulpits are not big factors beyond “get out the vote” campaigns as Christian radio preaches to its own choir, not the undecided voters. And the same is true of clergy who sermonize before the already-converted.

    The power is the result of the religious right’s votes being combined with those of constituencies whose economic priorities are served by the same politicians who campaign on the religious right’s favored social issues.

    I have heard of “Justice Sunday,” as well as “Marriage Protection Sunday.” Again, this was about preaching to the already-converted, a motivational speech to bring them to action.

    Would it were that other movements and voting blocs were as galvanized as the religious right. Perhaps there is hope to be found in the emerging religious left, whose numbers are equal to, or possibly even greater than, those of the religious right.

  • Are you republican?
    Is today your wedding anniversary?

    GUESS WHAT????

    Saturday June 10th is the third anniversary of legalized Gay marraige in Canada! No wonder we have so many illegal immigrants from there!

  • Ahhhhh it warms my heart when people suck up to me!!!!

  • Who is Fitzgerald Green and why would anyone listen to his insulting drivel? If that’s the most intelligent comment he should make, perhaps he should refrain from commenting to avoid bringing ridicule upon himself.

    In Jamesons Veritas

  • hsbowen

    can’t you people ever get it through your head that moral conflicts between people are much more than each one thinking they are superior to the next?

  • Bigotry by any other name still smells like shit.

  • bliffle

    But isn’t that exactly what ‘morals’ is? An opportunity to exert power over other peoples behaviour?

  • My point, how does a gay couple effect anyone’s life by their own. Moral outrage is just a thinly vailed excuse to publically hate, and/or attack someone that hasn’t done anyone harm.

    Of course that’s only my opinion…