Published on Wednesday, July 14, 2004 by the Toronto Star
Republican Strategy Unravels
Planned to Force Vote on Gay Marriage
by Tim Harper
WASHINGTON—In the torrid arena of cultural hot-button politics, U.S. President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans looked to have an unbeatable strategy on gay marriage.
Republicans entered this week bent on forcing a Senate vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw gay marriage. It's a vote they could not win but which would energize their conservative base, shore up southern and swing-state support and force presumed Democrat nominee John Kerry and running mate John Edwards to oppose the amendment and be branded again as "liberals" outside the mainstream.
But then Lynne Cheney, wife of U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, broke ranks. And the Republicans began squabbling among themselves over the wording of their amendment.
Today, the polarizing issue is bogged down in procedural wrangling, and the unassailable strategy is up in the air. Instead of a vote for the history books, the Senate will today vote on whether to have a vote — and signs are the Republicans will lose and Kerry and Edwards can skate away.
"The Republicans find themselves in an embarrassing position," Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said yesterday. "They cannot agree among themselves as to what form the amendment relating to gay marriage or the marriage amendment ought to take ..."
Democrats are not going to allow Republicans to turn the Senate into an "amendment convention," he added.
Not what we wanted, countered Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee. Republicans merely wanted a thoughtful debate on a serious issue.
"Where the Democrats are usually obstructing, obstructing, obstructing, they said `go ahead and take the vote, and then let's get out of here,'" Frist said.
"That's not enough. We want to think about it, debate it, have the opportunity to amend it."
This is more than just partisan mud-slinging. Gay marriage is seen here as the sleeper cultural issue in November's election.
"We are taking a roller to a Rembrandt," Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said, brandishing a copy of the constitution in the Senate chamber and admonishing fellow legislators to treat it with respect and humility. "This debate is not about changing the constitution. The real reason is to change the subject of the presidential campaign."
Bush ushered in the debate during his weekly radio address, saying "to defend marriage, our nation has no other choice" but to amend the constitution.
An indication of the importance of the issue to the president's re-election campaign came yesterday from Paul Weyrich of the conservative Free Congress Foundation.
There is a lack of enthusiasm among cultural conservatives for Bush this year, he told CNN, and if the election hinges on Iraq, the president could lose.
But if Bush gets ahead of the gay-marriage issue, the electorate will rally behind him, he said.
Democrats argue the president and Republican leadership are wasting the Senate's time, when Americans are dying in Iraq and looking for work at home. They were backed by advocacy groups who aired TV ads warning Americans they shouldn't be fooled by the Senate's sudden urgency to deal with the question.
The liberal Web site MoveOn.org ran ads featuring a couple at a kitchen table lamenting lost jobs, tax cuts for the rich, the cost of health care insurance and Bush's mistruths about Iraq. "But Bush says he's against gay marriage. Oooooh," the man says.
"Who on earth would fall for that?" the woman replies, while a voice-over says: "Tell President Bush to work on the real problems we face."
Democrats have also exploited comments made by Lynne Cheney, who told a TV interviewer on the weekend: "People should be free to enter into the relationships they choose." The Cheneys have two daughters; one is gay.
A marriage decision should ultimately be left to legislators at the state level, as it always has been, she said.
Although Republicans control the Senate, a constitutional amendment needs the support of 67 senators from the 100-member chamber. A motion to proceed to debate needs the support of 60 senators.
Kerry and Edwards both support civil unions, but not gay marriage. And both say they're against amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage.
© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited 2004