Conservative family organizations are downplaying the Republican-run Senate's failure to bring the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) to a vote in July. Many activists say the three days of debate provided a crucial opening salvo on the issue.

Republican leadership could muster only 48 senators to end debate and vote on the resolution, a dozen shy of the 60 necessary votes. Just three Democrats agreed to bring it to a vote (John Kerry and John Edwards skipped the vote). Six Republicans broke ranks.

Nevertheless, the inaction achieved two important goals, according to Alliance for Marriage (AFM) founder Matt Daniels, who crafted the two-sentence FMA. "This gets politicians on the record before the election," Daniels told CT. "Also, it dramatically increased public awareness."

Daniels likened the drive to preserve traditional marriage to the Civil Rights Act, which faced repeated filibusters in the Senate. As with civil rights, Daniels contends traditional marriage will prevail.

Yet Cheryl Jacques, president of Human Rights Campaign, said the FMA vote shows how unimportant the issue is to Americans, who are more concerned about health care costs, troops in Iraq, and retaining jobs.

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), FMA's chief sponsor, said he plans to continue bringing the amendment before the chamber. U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) introduced identical legislation in the House last year, and debate is expected to take place in early September.

Daniels said if efforts repeatedly fail, Senate leadership is willing to drop the second sentence of the amendment—which places restrictions on state or federal courts expanding marriage definitions—and simply stick with the first: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman."

As Congress debated the issue in July, tens of thousands of FMA supporters overwhelmed Senate phone lines, including 200 an hour to Allard's office.

"It's a question of whether the American people will wake up fast enough before this whole thing is settled by the courts," Daniels said. "We're in a huge race."

Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, and 38 states subsequently have enacted legislation defining marriage as between one woman and one man. After the FMA vote, two lesbians who obtained a marriage license in Massachusetts filed suit to overturn the federal and state of Florida's DOMA laws.

Eleven states will consider a constitutional amendment question on marriage between now and November. But many profamily activists see a federal constitutional amendment as the only solution to restraining activist judges. On July 22, the House of Representatives voted 233-194 to pass the Marriage Protection Act, which bars federal courts from hearing challenges to DOMA.

Like Daniels, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said the movement is gaining momentum. "Unity across denominational and racial lines is continuing to build," Perkins said. "This is one issue the Christian community is not willing to take a pass on."

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