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Marriage amendment expected to die in Senate

Proposal to ban same-sex marriage unlikely to get enough votes

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist says efforts to pass the same-sex marriage ban will continue.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A proposed constitutional amendment that would effectively prohibit gay or lesbian couples from legally marrying is expected to die in a procedural Senate vote Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a maneuver by Senate Republicans to paint presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry into a political corner went awry amid internal GOP divisions.

Facing the prospect that the amendment as originally drafted wouldn't get a simple majority -- let alone the two-thirds vote needed for approval of a proposed amendment -- Republican leaders decided to move to a second version of the measure, stripped of language that troubled some GOP moderates.

But Democrats refused to go along.

That means supporters of the amendment will need to get 60 votes in a procedural vote Wednesday to cut off debate and move to a vote on the amendment itself -- a hurdle they are unlikely to overcome with most Democrats and some moderate Republicans opposed.

The death of the amendment would be a blow to social conservatives, who have been pressing hard for the measure after same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts in May.

President Bush has also championed the proposed amendment, saying it was necessary to protect the institution of marriage from "activist judges."

Democrats have accused Republicans of political gamesmanship for bringing up the divisive issue two weeks before the Democratic National Convention, hoping to use "no" votes by Kerry and and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, as a wedge issue with polls showing that the majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage.

Tuesday, Democrats were relishing what they saw as the maneuver's backfire.

"The Republicans find themselves in an embarrassing position," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "They cannot agree among themselves as to what form the amendment relating to gay marriage, or the marriage amendment, ought to take."

But Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee insisted that given the importance of a constitutional amendment, "we don't want to just have one vote."

"The Democrats just want to have one vote and skedaddle," he said. "We want to very thoughtfully debate a constitutional amendment, which is serious business."

Frist also vowed that even if the amendment fails in the test vote Wednesday, the issue will not go away.

"This is the start. And it's not going to be over after tomorrow," he said. "We'll come back in the future."

However, the majority leader conceded that the crush of legislative business may prevent the amendment from being reconsidered this year.

Aides to Kerry and Edwards said neither man plans to return to the Capitol for the procedural vote, given that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome.

But Republicans say that if Kerry and Edwards don't show up, they will use the missed votes to argue that they are trying to duck the issue.

Both Kerry and Edwards are on record opposing same-sex marriage, but both also oppose the amendment, arguing that it is unnecessary and strips states of their traditional dominion in matters of family law.

The amendment, as originally proposed by Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, would add these two sentences to the Constitution:

"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

GOP moderates objected to the second sentence, saying it was so ambiguous that it could also prevent states from allowing gay men and lesbians to join in civil unions.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, offered an alternative proposal to strike the second sentence, which the GOP leadership decided to try to bring to the floor in an effort to secure at least a majority.

In order to clear the 100-member Senate, a proposed constitutional amendment must get a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes. All along, supporters had said they did not expect to get enough votes to approve the measure, but they wanted to put senators on the record on the contentious issue.

Similar measures have been introduced in the House, but they have not yet come up for debate.

To become part of the Constitution, the amendment would have to gain the approval of two-thirds of both the Senate and House, and be ratified by at least 38 states.

CNN's Ed Henry and Craig Broffman contributed to this report.

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