The House joined the Senate yesterday in refusing to approve a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, described by Republican supporters as a vital protection for traditional families but denounced by Democratic foes as a divisive pre-election ploy to inflame prejudice.
The vote by the GOP-controlled House was 227 to 186 in favor of writing the same-sex marriage ban into the Constitution, 49 short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve an amendment and send it to the states for ratification.
The Senate, also controlled by Republicans, voted 50 to 48 in July against taking up the amendment.
The House and Senate votes amounted to a double-barreled loss for President Bush, who strongly supported the amendment. But many Republicans, while conceding in advance that the amendment would be defeated, saw the issue as a political winner and wanted to put opponents on record before the Nov. 2 elections.
Recent opinion polls have shown that a large majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage but are divided over amending the Constitution to ban it. Same-sex marriage became a national issue after Massachusetts's highest court ruled last year that same-sex couples had a right to marry.
The proposed amendment defines marriage as occurring only between "a man and a woman" and says neither the federal nor state constitutions can be interpreted to "require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."
Critics of the proposal argue that it could jeopardize civil unions that create some legal and financial protections for same-sex couples, a concern that was described as groundless by amendment supporters but appeared to play a role in the proposal's defeat.
The marriage amendment was the latest in a series of conservative causes to be brought before the House as the elections near. The House voted Wednesday to repeal most of the District of Columbia's gun laws. Last week, it voted to bar federal courts from considering challenges to the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
These proposals, along with a flag-protection constitutional amendment already approved by the House, face serious opposition in the Senate. The White House issued a statement from President Bush, saying that "a bipartisan majority of U.S. Representatives voted in favor of a constitutional amendment affirming the sanctity of marriage as a union between a man and a woman" but adding that he is "disappointed that the House failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote. Because activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are seeking to redefine marriage for the rest of the country, we must remain vigilant in defending traditional marriage."
In yesterday's vote, 191 Republicans and 36 Democrats voted for the amendment, while 158 Democrats, 27 Republicans and one independent voted against it.