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Despite defeat of same-sex marriage ban, Bush still helped by its politics

Despite defeat of same-sex marriage ban, Bush still helped by its politics

Following the decisive defeat in the U.S. Senate of a proposed federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, many political pundits, along with those who fought on either side of the amendment issue, are considering the political ramifications of pushing the ban during an election year. The proposal went down on Wednesday with 48 votes for an amendment to 50 against. For President Bush, who has pushed for the marriage ban, it has been a political straddle in the making, designed to maximize election-year support among conservatives without offending moderate voters wary of any taint of intolerance. "Activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America," Bush said after the vote. "And neither should defenders of traditional marriage flag in their efforts." A House of Representatives version of the Federal Marriage Amendment is expected to be taken up this fall, shortly before the election. Despite the embarrassing loss in the Senate, Republican strategists have said they hope they have laid the foundation for success in November. "Four million religious conservative voters sat out the last election, so the president's visible stance on protecting marriage is essential to turning out all of those conservative voters who pulled the lever for him in 2000 and getting those other 4 million to come out for him this year," said Keith Appell, a conservative strategist in Washington, D.C. Other Republicans say they hope the issue helps Bush with low- and middle-income social conservatives and with Catholics, particularly in battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan. Republicans also note that some black ministers are among the amendment's supporters. "I think it's being used as a wedge issue," said Alexis Herman, a black former Labor secretary who is now an adviser to Bush's Democratic presidential opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Kerry and other Democrats also call the issue a political distraction, an attempt to divert attention from the economy and the war in Iraq. "The unfortunate result is that the important work of the American people funding our homeland security needs, creating new and better jobs, and raising the minimum wage is not getting done," said the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting. Whatever the reason, the same-sex marriage issue has surfaced in a handful of congressional races, including South Dakota and Florida. Opponents of same-sex marriage are also working to force November votes on proposed state constitutional amendments in more than a dozen states. The list includes Michigan, Ohio, and Oregon, all presidential swing states, and many believe it will benefit Bush by drawing conservative voters to the polls. The debate is occurring within the context of a broader campaign conflict over social issues. Like Bush, Kerry's doing something of a straddle on same-sex marriage: He opposes the gay marriage amendment but says he's against same-sex marriage itself. A campaign spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, says that if Kerry's home state comes up with a constitutional provision that outlaws gay marriage but protects equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples, he would support that. To the disappointment of GOP strategists who had hoped to force him to cast a vote, Kerry was absent in the Senate this week for what his campaign aides described as a procedural roll call. Instead, he issued a statement that criticized Republicans for bringing the issue to a vote. He added, "When I am president, I will work to bring the nation together and build a stronger America," a dig at Republicans, who Kerry's camp claims is attempting to divide the country. If Republicans are nervous about such a charge, it's out of concern that they can be depicted as intolerant. "What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do," Bush said earlier this week.

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