President Bush and Senate conservatives renew their battle Monday to ban same-sex marriage through a constitutional amendment that has a slim chance of passage.
"Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society," Bush said in his Saturday radio address. "Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all."
The president was to make further remarks in favor of the amendment Monday at 1:45 p.m. ET, as the Senate opens three days of debate.
Many Republicans support the measure because they say traditional marriage strengthens society; others don't, but concede the reality of election-year politics.
"Marriage between one man and one woman does a better job protecting children better than any other institution humankind has devised," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee. "As such, marriage as an institution should be protected, not redefined."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said he will vote against the amendment on the floor, but allowed it to survive his panel, in part to give the GOP the debate that party leaders believe will pay off on Election Day.
Specter has chosen a different battle with the Bush administration this week -- a hearing Tuesday on how the FBI spies on journalists who publish classified information.
All but one of the Senate Democrats -- the exception is Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- oppose the same-sex marriage measure and, with moderate Republicans, are expected to block an up-or-down vote, killing the measure for the year. (Watch activists head to Capitol Hill for the fight over gay marriage -- 1:47)
Democrats say the amendment is a divisive bow to religious conservatives, and point out that it conflicts with the GOP's opposition to big government interference.
"A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry pure and simple," said Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, where the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriages in 2003.
Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, which in 2004 began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, on Monday denounced Bush's move as predictable and "stale rhetoric" aimed at rallying conservatives for this year's midterm elections.
"It's politics. It's pandering and it's placating a core constituency, the evangelicals," Newsom said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
The House is also expected to take up the measure this year.
Fueled by election-year politics, the gay marriage issue is the most volatile Congress will consider as it returns from a weeklong Memorial Day recess.
Pentagon funding also on Congressional plate
Other legislation has better chances for success, particularly a record-size emergency spending bill to continue U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast.
The Pentagon says it needs its money -- about $66 billion -- right away or delays could begin to affect the conduct of the war in Iraq. The Senate added new relief for farmers and other aid to the package, swelling its cost to more than $100 billion. Bush is demanding that the price tag stick within his $92.2 billion request, plus $2.3 billion to combat avian flu.
An agreement could be passed this week.
The House is expected to consider a $32 billion spending bill would give the Homeland Security Department $1.8 billion more in 2007 than this year. It also is likely to send Bush a Senate-approved bill to raise indecency fines tenfold, to $325,000 per violation, for television and radio broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on government surveillance of journalists who publish classified information, the result of probes into published reports on secret prisons overseas and the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program.
An election-year debate on the constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman was never in doubt, however doomed the legislation. As Republicans geared up to defend their majorities in the House and Senate, conservative groups earlier this year let them know that they were dissatisfied with the GOP's efforts on several social issues, including gay marriage.
Frist, a possible presidential candidate in 2008, promptly placed the amendment on the floor schedule, with Bush's promotion central to the plan.
In his Saturday radio address, Bush cast the amendment as a defense of the stability of society and a strike back at judges who have overturned state laws similar in intent to the proposed legislation.
"In our free society, people have the right to choose how they live their lives," Bush said. "And in a free society, decisions about such a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people, not by the courts."
'Why do we need a constitutional amendment?'
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, said Sunday that the amendment is unnecessary. "We already have a law, the Defense of Marriage Act. ... Nobody has violated that law. There's been no challenge to that law. Why do we need a constitutional amendment?" Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Parliamentary maneuvers were likely to sink the amendment for the year. Senate procedure requires two days of debate before the 100-member Senate decides -- 60 votes are required -- whether to consider the amendment on an up-or-down vote.
Even the amendment's proponents don't expect it to survive this first step, let alone Senate passage by the two-thirds majority needed in both houses to send it to states for ratification.
"This is important throughout the country," Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia, said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "The fact that we'll have a majority vote but not a two-thirds vote doesn't mean that you don't try."
Voters in 19 states have approved amendments to their state constitutions that protect the traditional definition of marriage, Bush said. The president also said 45 of the 50 states have either a state constitutional amendment or statute defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
This November, initiatives banning same-sex marriages are expected to be on the ballot in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. In 2004, 13 states approved initiatives prohibiting gay marriage or civil unions, with 11 states casting votes on Election Day.