This last week, the United States Senate considered and voted on a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Simply put, the intent of such an amendment is to ban same-sex marriages across the country. In order for this measure to have passed the Senate, 67 senators or two thirds of the members would have had to vote in favor of the measure. However, after the votes were counted, fewer than 50 Senators voted in favor of the amendment. This amendment was backed primarily by conservatives, particularly the President, though a number of Senate Republicans voted against the proposed amendment.
The interesting fact to consider on this point is that the majority of the states already have acted to pass laws or state constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman and prohibiting same-sex marriages. Several states even have this issue on their individual ballots for consideration on this November’s ballot. Despite this, the Senate continues to discuss the issue and the issue continues to fail when voted upon. Most recently, on June 6th, when the Senate voted only 49 senators voted in favor of the amendment despite predictions that at least 52 senators would vote to support the proposed amendment. While this is one more vote that was received when the issue was put to a Senate vote in 2004, it is still far short of the required 67 votes to move a proposed amendment to the House of Representatives for their consideration.
So why did the Senate vote on this issue? Most, including a number of the Senate Republicans, understand that the vote was designed to increase support for the Republicans in the mid-term November elections. There are several key House and Senate seats up for vote this November and the Republicans do not want to lose any seats in either house of Congress nor do they want to risk losing their control of Congress. The Democrats want to pick up seats and take control of one or both houses. Ideally, the Republicans would like to gain ground. Being that just this week a California Republican House candidate defeated his Democratic challenger in a special election to fill the vacant seat of a Republican House member who was indicted on bribery charges gives some indication that the Republicans may fair well in the elections. Despite the problems many feel the Republicans are facing, apparently the voters will still elect them to office, even in a state that traditionally votes Democrat.
In the aftermath of the constitutional vote, as would be expected, there are diverging opinions on the effects of the vote. While the California House election bodes well for the Republicans, any clear long term progress was not immediately apparent following the vote. Many supporters of the amendment have pointed out that any Constitutional amendment takes time to build support prior to passing the Senate though at the rate they are moving it will be a decade more until Republicans gain enough support to pass the proposed amendment. Several Republican senators have made it abundantly clear that they intend to continue their efforts and will not stop until marriage is constitutionally protected as a union between a man and a woman. However, a number of Republicans broke ranks with their party members and voted against the proposed amendment. In fact, John McCain (R-Ari.), who voted against the amendment, said that it was his belief that most Americans were not convinced and did not believe that their legislators or their judiciary were headed toward defining marriage as to include same sex couples. This opinion is not one in support of same-sex marriages, in fact, those that hold such a view seem to be adopting a position that the issue really isn’t one of concern or that is yet ripe. McCain made no mention of the ultimate issue of whether the issue should have even been considered at the federal level. However, recent polls have shown that while most Americans oppose same-sex marriages, they do not believe that the matter should be the subject of a Constitutional amendment. Democrats are essentially saying the Republicans are avoiding more pressing issues by focusing on matters they know will not pass.
At present, 45 states have approved constitutional amendments or state statutes that define traditional marriage in a manner that would bar same-sex marriages. As well, evangelical Christian organizations and some minority groups have supported bans. As these groups represent large, key voting blocks for the mid-term elections, it is easy to understand why the Republicans brought the matter to a vote in an effort to gain support for the coming election.
While Democrats oppose a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriages, they have also been quick to say that the Republicans knew the measure would not pass and that it would only serve to divide Americans in a time when all should be working to unite the country. However, the Democrats organized a number of events to counter the Republicans vote on the proposed amendment that did little to unite the country. As well, the Democrats have also done little but encourage the Republicans to continue their efforts in regard to a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. While there are clearly more pressing issues facing the country, neither party seemed interested in focusing the efforts of Congress on tackling them as both parties seem more concerned about the coming elections. As the Democrats are once again doing little more than criticizing the Republicans, the Republican efforts to solidify their base may end up once again being successful. However, there could also be the blowback effect that many conservatives or fence riders will interpret the Republican efforts in regard to the same-sex constitutional amendment as another example of the federal government’s tendency to overreach. For many this is the real problem with this issue.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, the Constitution is not a vehicle for social engineering. The issue of marriages has long fallen to the states to administer. Marriage licenses are obtained locally, marriage licenses are filed with the individual states, the matter of divorce is handled on a local level. As has already been shown, the majority of the states have already considered the issue of same-sex marriages and enacted laws or passed amendments on the issue. Some states have begun to allow same-sex civil unions. So at the end of the day, the issue is not whether or not one supports or is against the issue of same-sex marriage, whether the Senate is wasting time on the issue or even if the matter will ever gain enough votes to garner Constitutional amendment consideration, the question Republicans and Democrats alike should be asking is, “Why is the federal government considering this issue at all?”