Federal Marriage Amendment fails; Episcopalians in Senate evenly divided

Retired bishop speaks at news conference affirming outcome
July 14, 2004

Episcopalian senators were evenly split on the issue when the U.S. Senate defeated an attempt July 14 to amend the U.S. Constitution by defining marriage and prohibiting same-gender civil marriage.

In a procedural vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, the tally was 50 to 48 -- 12 votes short of the number needed for senators to end debate and vote on the actual amendment, according to the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C.

A vote to invoke cloture -- to cut off debate -- requires 60 votes. An amendment to the Constitution requires a "super majority" of 67 votes in order to pass the Senate.

Of those voting to cut off debate - Saxby Chambliss (Georgia), Chuck Hagel (Nebraska), Ted Stevens (Alaska), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), and John Warner (Virginia) -- all are Republicans. Of those not voting in favor, Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island) and John McCain (Arizona) are Republicans and Bill Nelson (Florida), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), and Evan Bayh (Indiana) are Democrats.

"I am here today to say that not all people of faith believe we should amend the Constitution to deny people equal rights under the law," said the Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, retired Bishop of Washington pro-tempore, at a news conference outside the Capitol following the vote. "As a Christian, my faith calls me to respect the dignity of every human being and to strive for justice and to tear down the walls that separate us."

"In the history of our nation, this great Constitution to form a more perfect union and establish justice has been amended to include those not originally included, never to exclude," Dixon added. "And the Federal Marriage Amendment debated in the Senate today [would] do just that. It excludes and denies American citizens equal protection under the law."

In a statement released by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in February, he expressed similar concerns about a Constitutional amendment.

"The Episcopal Church is on record as being committed to continuing discussion and discernment around these questions [of sexuality], about which we do not have a common mind, and to equal protection under the law and full civil rights for homosexual persons," the statement said. "I am concerned about the advisability of a Constitutional amendment being put forth for discussion at this time. Questions of sexuality are far from settled, and a Constitutional amendment which was perceived as settling this matter might make it more difficult to engage in civil discourse around this topic."

The 1976 General Convention of the Episcopal Church established the policy of the Church that "Homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens." That policy was reaffirmed in 1994.

At the news conference, Dixon was joined at the podium by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Barbara Boxer (D-California), U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-New York) and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado). Also participating in the news conference were Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Rabbi Michael Namath of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; Lisalyn Jacobs of Legal Momentum and Martin Ornelas-Quintero of Llego.