Gay marriage vote strategy backfires on Republicans

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The Independent US

It seemed the perfect device for Republicans to split the Democratic electorate, embarrass John Kerry on the eve of his party's nominating convention, and turn the spotlight on one of the "values" issues they believe will help them in the November election campaign.

It seemed the perfect device for Republicans to split the Democratic electorate, embarrass John Kerry on the eve of his party's nominating convention, and turn the spotlight on one of the "values" issues they believe will help them in the November election campaign.

Last night, however, the Republicans' attempt to drive a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage through the Senate was doomed to failure - leaving the Democrats unscathed but exposing splits in their own ranks.

As a Senate vote approached, it was clear that the Republican leadership had no hope of securing the two thirds majority of 67 votes needed for a constitutional amendment to pass, and would probably fall well short of the 60 needed to keep the debate alive.

So confident were the Democrats of success that neither Mr Kerry nor his running mate, John Edwards - both of whom oppose the gay marriage amendment - were bothering to attend to cast their votes.

The issue became a talking point earlier this year, when the Supreme Court in Mr Kerry's home state of Massachusetts issued a ruling blocking attempts by the state's legislature to ban such unions, and the San Francisco city authorities also carried out gay marriages. Republican strategists saw gay marriage as a perfect "wedge issue" to detach voters who are Democratic on economic matters but conservative on social questions.

But the attempt to launch a constitutional amendment providing that "marriage within the United States shall consist only of a man and a woman" fell foul of divisions within their own ranks. Some Republicans felt that the constitution was no place for laying down the law on social issues, while a few moderates even agreed with Democratic charges that demands for an amendment were little more than "gay-bashing".

It also exposed rifts at the top of the party. President George Bush, who now advocates changing the US constitution to outlaw gay marriage, is on record as arguing that the issue was one for states to decide.

The US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has joined the President in supporting an amendment. However, his wife, Lynne - a leading conservative spokeswoman - contradicted him by arguing that the issue should be settled at state level.

The use of the Senate to promote the issue has also opened Republicans to charges that they are trying to shift the political focus away from the economy and the war in Iraq.

The point was underlined by a newspaper advertisement taken out by a Democratic group in Ohio: "Jobs lost in Ohio: 255,000. Gay Marriages in Ohio: 0," it said.

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