WASHINGTON - The Senate failed on a vote of 49-48 Wednesday to advance a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, voted to advance the legislation.
As senators debated the issue this week, a pending federal lawsuit in Tulsa was mentioned frequently by supporters of the proposal.
The case, filed in 2004 by two lesbian couples challenging the Oklahoma constitutional provision against gay marriage and the federal defense of marriage law, was cited by Senate Republicans as proof that courts, rather than voters and legislators, could determine the direction of marriage in the United States.
Many opponents of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage argue that marriage is a matter best left to the states. But proponents of a federal constitutional amendment said states' rights are being decided by judges.
"This (issue) is not being handled by the states today," Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor. "It is being handled by the courts. Even in the reddest of the red states such as Nebraska and Oklahoma, each of which adopted state constitutional amendments to protect traditional marriage, the activists have sued in federal court and said these state amendments are unconstitutional under federal law."
The Senate failed to advance the amendment. The proposal needed at least 60 votes for the Senate to cut off debate.
President Bush, who pushed for the amendment this week, said Wednesday he was "disappointed" in the Senate vote.
"Our nation's founders set a high bar for amending our Constitution, and history has shown us that it can take several tries before an amendment builds the two-thirds support it needs in both houses of Congress," Bush said.
In his debate on the Senate floor Tuesday, Inhofe mentioned the Tulsa lawsuit, saying, "Lawsuits are now pending in nine states, including my state of Oklahoma, asking the courts to declare that traditional marriage laws are unconstitutional.