Leading Republican House of Representatives members who were once unenthusiastic about President George W. Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples now say they plan to bring the idea to a vote just before next November's election. Senate Republicans have vowed to force a vote on their version of the Federal Marriage Amendment during the week of July 12, shortly before Democrats convene to nominate Massachusetts senator John Kerry as their candidate to unseat Bush. "We feel like marriage is under attack. Marriage is a spiritual bond between one man and one woman," House majority leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, said Wednesday. "I came to realize, in the end, we're going to have to do a constitutional amendment if we want to protect marriage." He said House Republican leaders expect to debate the constitutional amendment in September. Amendments to the Constitution require approval by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.
Kerry and his vice presidential candidate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, oppose same-sex marriage but support civil unions. Neither would support a constitutional amendment. It is unclear whether Kerry or Edwards would leave the campaign trail next week for a vote on the issue, reports the congressional newspaper Roll Call. Privately, Republicans acknowledge they are eager to get both men on the record opposing the amendment, because they believe such a vote would hurt them in the South and Midwest.
House Republicans also plan to debate a measure that would give state courts rather than certain federal ones jurisdiction in same-sex marriage cases. A bill dealing with jurisdiction would leave decisions about legalizing same-sex marriage in state courts and prevent federal judges from hearing cases that challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as the union between a man and a woman. Republican representative John Hostettler has written the legislation to remove marriage matters from certain federal courts. In a May statement explaining the bill, he said, "Simply put, if federal courts don't have jurisdiction over marriage issues, they can't hear them. And if they can't hear cases regarding marriage policy, they can't redefine this sacred institution and establish a national precedent for homosexual marriage."