June 5, 2006 -- Despite decent weather, White House organizers moved President Bush's endorsement of the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage from the austere and unmistakably presidential Rose Garden, where invitations last week advertised it would be, into a plain room with blue curtains at an office building next door.
The president stood on the stage alone, gave a muted speech and quickly left. The way cameras were positioned, the presidential seal was not visible as he spoke to the room.
While his words in favor of the Marriage Protection Amendment were tough, the event itself lacked the pageantry that could have backed up the force of his words.
If last week in the Senate was Memorial Day vacation week, and the two weeks before that were immigration weeks, and the week before that was health week, we're coming up on core American values week, GOP style. Issue No. 1, as introduced on the Senate floor Monday: the Marriage Protection Amendment.
But for all the talk in the media about the gay marriage issue stoking the embers of the Republican base and helping the GOP gird up for what could be a difficult November 2006, the debate lacked the passionate protests and impassioned floor speeches on both sides of the immigration debate.
At the two gay marriage press events on Capitol Hill, one supporting and one against the amendment, the only lawmaker in sight was the main sponsor of the amendment.
Conservative Wayne Allard, R-Colo., made an appearance mid-morning with the Alliance for Marriage, which wrote the amendment language. The Alliance is diverse, both ethnically and in its religious beliefs, though united in its belief that gay marriage is wrong.
There was a rabbi, an African Methodist Episcopal bishop, a Mormon elder and several Latino evangelists at the event.
Doing most of the talking was Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, who was raised by a single mother on welfare in Queens and has used his personal story as moral collateral to lobby tirelessly in favor of two-parent, heterosexual families.
Daniels also argued that, more than energizing the base, the gay marriage issue unifies Americans. He gestured to the diverse group of people around him.That support for what he called traditional families goes beyond partisan, political lines and has great strength in traditionally Democratic blocks of ethnic minorities -- blacks and Latinos.
"Support for our cause in those communities is higher than it is in the anglo community," he said.
Daniels and Allard and the clergy all made statements, most of them saying that they believe there is a decline in the American family, and that an alarming number of children being raised without a father figure are reasons to pass the amendment banning gay marriage. The press corps -- which could accurately be described as hostile -- asked in many ways, to no avail, how banning gay marriage would solve the problem of deadbeat dads and single parents.
Daniels said Americans want to be guided by their laws. The press didn't buy that, and the questions got more and more heated. Daniels eventually had to, as he put it, "call this press conference."
In response to the press conference held by Allard and the Alliance for Marriage, the director and some members of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign -- www.hrc.org, which watches out for the rights of the LGBT community (not to be confused with Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org, which looks out for political freedom and inhumane conduct in wartime) -- held a press conference of its own on the scenic West Front of the Capitol building. There were no lawmakers in attendance for their event.
'Don't Write Discrimination Into the Constitution
At the Human Rights Campaign event, with the Capitol dome in the background, participants criticized the Republican leadership for focusing on gay marriage when there are so many other problems, such as gas prices and the Iraq War. And they complained that the amendment "writes discrimination into the Constitution."
Speakers included the Human Rights Campaign director Joe Solmonese, the Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal minister from Pasadena, Calif., a regular woman from North Carolina named LaWana SlackMayfield, and a concerned husband and wife of 55 years with a gay son from Wisconsin -- Joann and Joe Elder.
The Elders sent in two of the 85,000 postcards that Human Rights Campaign members then delivered to the congressional delegations of Wisconsin and California.
As the 50 or more Human Rights Campaigner members approached the Russell Senate Office building, they were met by five or six very loud and abusive protesters going on about the sins of homosexuality. The five or six had posters with men kissing and were chanting to the Human Rights Campaigners: "You're intolerant, you try to teach the children."
The campaigners did not engage the anti-gay protesters but turned down a side street and went in a different entrance.
The debate and eventual vote over gay marriage will be used by Republicans to rally their base voters, or to try to poach socially conservative blacks and Latinos from Democrats. The idea is that conservatives energized by gay marriage and other social issues will make up for Independent voters worried about the war in Iraq and the economy. But there will not likely be an up-or-down vote on the gay marriage amendment itself.
Rather, the Senate is expected to do away with the measure because it lacks the 60 votes needed to get beyond a "cloture on the motion to proceed" -- much less the 67 votes, or two-thirds of the Senate, that it would need to pass.
Amendment Lacks Votes to Pass
Two Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, are expected to support the gay marriage amendment by voting in favor of bringing it to a vote.
Five Republicans voted against an identical measure on July 15, 2004. -- Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Sununu, R-N.H.
Other Republicans have indicated they disagree with the amendments, but will likely vote for cloture because they're all about up-or-down votes. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is in this camp.
Some Republicans who voted against the motion to proceed in 2004, like McCain, are against gay marriage, but don't want a constitutional amendment. So he will vote against it on federalist grounds. But there are rumblings that he could support cloture.
The final vote on the cloture motion is likely to be 50 to 52 votes in support of voting on the amendment, which is better than it got in 2004 -- 48 yeas and 52 nays then. But nowhere near the 67 it needs.