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Same-Sex Marriage Becomes Major Issue in US Congress


President Bush's announcement that he will support an amendment to the U.S. constitution that would ban marriage between homosexuals has brought a range of reaction in Congress. Some Republicans applauded the president, but others are being cautious about legislative steps Congress would have to take:

President Bush's announcement and the strong reactions it provoked in Congress and across the country have already defined the basic election year "battle lines" in the marriage debate.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Republicans who support such a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage spoke out in support of Mr. Bush.

Congressman Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana, praised the president for moving to resolve "weeks of moral confusion."

"Congress should heed President Bush's courageous moral leadership," he said. "Pass the marriage amendment and affirm the confidence of the American people in our ability to defend their most cherished of institutions."

Democrats fired back, echoing criticism by the chairman of the Democratic Party who accused the president of trying to "divide the country for his own political gain."

"The commander-in-chief has signaled the start of the cultural wars. So they [Republicans] are here, with their wedge politics, trying to divided us, trying to divide us as a nation," said Bob Filner, a Democratic congressman from California, where legal moves are underway by conservative groups challenging a wave of gay marriages in at least one city, San Francisco.

House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has vowed to work to defeat a marriage amendment saying, "never before has a Constitutional amendment been used to discriminate against a group of people, and we must not start now."

Approval of a marriage amendment would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, as well as approval by three-quarters of the 50 U.S. states.

President Bush has not endorsed any particular piece of legislation aimed at amending the constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A proposed amendment, sponsored by Colorado Republican Marilyn Musgrave, has already been introduced in the House of Representatives and a similar bill is pending in the Senate. Not all Republicans are rushing to support that or other bills that might be introduced.

In the House, California Congressman David Dreier, says the issue should be left to the courts. Another Californian, [Republican] Congressman Jerry Lewis, says amending the constitution should be "a last resort."

The marriage debate is sure to intensify leading up to the Democratic and Republican party 2004 presidential nominating conventions. And there are some political risks for lawmakers.

A vote for such an amendment could be seen simply as a recognition of the fact that most Americans, according to public opinion polls, oppose legalization of same-sex marriage. However, lawmakers risk losing support from constituencies, such as gay voters, if they do vote for an amendment.

Asked about possible political damage Democrats might suffer if they oppose crafting a constitutional amendment, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle said only that this is "impossible to predict at this time."

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