George Bush’s bid to amend the US constitution to ban gay marriage was headed for an embarrassing defeat in the Senate after the Sydney Star Observer deadline last night, due to internal divisions among Republican politicians.

A plan to bring the issue to a Senate vote fell apart this week when the Republicans realised they did not have party support for their first constitutional amendment.
They presented a reworded version of the amendment on Monday in an effort to appease dissenters within the Republican ranks and get more votes.

The Republicans earlier conceded they wouldn’t have the 60 votes necessary to pass the original amendment, Reuters reported.

They asked the Senate to vote on both versions of the amendment but the Democrats agreed to vote only on the first one. The likely outcome now is that neither proposal will get a direct vote.

A procedural vote was expected to take place last night to decide whether to cut off debate on the issue altogether, which the Democrats supported.

Republicans were taken by surprise on Friday when the Democrats, realising the amendment would fail, offered to lift their objections and proceed directly to a vote on Wednesday.

In a last-minute bid to avoid an embarrassing defeat, Republicans drafted the new amendment to read, Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.

The original version also included the sentence: Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidence thereof be conferred upon any union other than that between a man and a woman.

This issue is not going away, Republican senator Bill Frist told Reuters.

Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques said the last-minute changes were a disgrace.

I think it is outrageous and frankly surreal that at the 11th hour in this debate, they are literally rewriting the constitution on the back of a napkin, she said.

But Democrats refused to accept the new amendment, noting that Republicans had already bypassed the regular committee process to get the amendment directly to the vote.

We’re going to win this, Democrat senator Barbara Boxer, who has strongly opposed the amendment, told the San Francisco Chronicle. We’re going to show that they don’t have near the number of votes they need, and hopefully this will put an end to it.

While most senators have gone on the record saying they were against gay marriage, many in both parties expressed reluctance to amend the constitution for any reason, especially to override state decisions on such a divisive social issue. Many expressed concern that the wording of the amendment would also ban civil unions and domestic partnerships, and some worried the amendment would be viewed as gay bashing by the American people, the Washington Post reported.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards have said they opposed gay marriage, with both saying it was an issue that should be left to the states to decide. Kerry’s spokesperson Stephanie Cutter said Kerry and Edwards would vote against the amendment if it came up. The two men have said they supported civil unions.

Some Democrats have called the whole gay marriage debate a Republican diversion from more pressing issues facing the US, like the war in Iraq.

Illinois senator Dick Durbin told The Guardian the Republicans were trying to change the subject of the election.

The most prominent Republican opposition to the amendment came from Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney. The pair’s daughter Mary is a lesbian.

First of all, people should be free to enter relationships that they choose, Mrs Cheney told CNN. Secondly, we should recognise what’s historically been the situation, that when it comes to conferring legal status to relationships, that is a matter best left to the states.

Many Republicans and their allies among Christian groups said they hoped to turn this loss into a political gain in this year’s elections by mobilising conservative voters to turn out for Bush in November, the Washington Post reported.

Australian Greens MP Michael Organ, who opposed the Howard government’s same-sex marriage ban in the House of Representatives, said he was delighted Bush’s constitutional amendment appears to have failed.

Just like Australia, the conservative government in the USA is gay bashing by legislation, Organ said.

What’s different about the USA is that the Democrats in the US Senate have maintained their opposition to this offensive plan.

The ALP has the opportunity to oppose exactly the same ideas when they come before the Senate in Australia, and as a matter of common decency I implore them to so.

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