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Bush expected to jump-start debate over same-sex marriage

Amendment bid to limit unions to men, women

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in his second term, President Bush will revisit the emotional debate over same-sex marriage. In two speeches, he will press the Senate to approve a constitutional amendment this week defining marriage as the union of a man and woman.

Bush's opposition to marriage between gay partners helped power him to reelection in 2004, but since then he has remained largely silent on the issue, to the consternation of some conservatives who have asserted that he has not exerted leadership.

Now, with midterm elections approaching, he is returning to a topic that galvanizes an important part of the Republican base.

The president devoted his weekly radio address yesterday to the Federal Marriage Amendment;he has invited supporters to the White House tomorrow for another speech promoting it.

The Senate is set to begin debating the amendment tomorrow and vote on Wednesday, but both sides believe sponsors do not have the 67 votes it needs for approval despite Bush's endorsement.

``Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society," Bush said in his radio address. ``Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society."

``On Monday, I will meet with a coalition of community leaders, constitutional scholars, family, and civic organizations and religious leaders," Bush said. ``They're Republicans, Democrats, and independents who've come together to support this amendment."

The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then would have to be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

Bush said the amendment would protect marriage from being redefined, while leaving state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

In the 100-member Senate, proponents are struggling to get even 50 votes. And so far only one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has said he will vote for it.

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, said he decided to call for a vote on the amendment because states that banned same-sex marriage in the last 18 months are under assault in the courts.

But critics said the only reason that Bush and Frist are reviving the issue is for election-year pandering to conservative voters, who, polls show, have grown disaffected with the president for various reasons.

``They understand that they are in deep trouble and they need to do anything they can to appease their people, which is the right-wing base," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which is a gay-rights organization.

Supporters say the issue energizes voters beyond the base, including independents and even Democratic-leaning voters, such as culturally traditional African-Americans.

Ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage in 11 states in 2004 helped drive up conservative turnout, and analysts believe that may have been a deciding factor for Bush.

The issue has already emerged in some of this year's races.

In one North Carolina congressional district, for instance, Republican challenger Vernon Robinson has aired a radio ad attacking Democratic Representative Brad Miller with mariachi music playing in the background: ``Brad Miller supports gay marriage and sponsored a bill to let American homosexuals bring their foreign homosexual lovers to this county on a marriage visa. If Miller had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals." Miller voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, saying the matter should be left to the states.

``The republic has survived pretty well for 220 years with marriage based on state law," he said Friday. ``I don't think we ought to amend the Constitution every time a politician wants to campaign on an issue." Miller said he supports the North Carolina law banning same-sex marriage, but is open to gay civil unions.

In 2004, an amendment with varying wording failed in the Senate, 48 in favor and 50 opposed, and in the House, 227 to 186.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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