Senate blocks same-sex marriage ban

Conservatives cite progress, plan to keep focus on issue

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate blocked on Wednesday a bid to amend the Constitution to essentially ban same-sex marriage.

Proponents failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to a vote on the actual amendment.

The Senate vote was 49-48 to end debate, or invoke cloture.

Conservative Republicans, looking to solidify their base in an election year, pushed the plan even as they conceded it did not have enough votes to pass. After the vote, they pledged to keep the issue in the spotlight.

"We're going to continue to press this issue," Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard said. "If it's up to me, we'll have a vote on this issue every year."

"We're making progress, and we're not going to stop until marriage between a man and a woman is protected," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas.

"We have 45 states that have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman," Brownback said. "Since the last time we voted in the Senate, we've seen a total of 14 states take this issue up on the ballot -- on the ballot -- and you've got another seven set for this fall."

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the same-sex marriage amendment will come before that body next month, The Associated Press reported.

"This is an issue that is of significant importance to many Americans," Boehner said. "We have significant numbers of our members who want a vote on this, so we are going to have a vote."

Opponents called the measure an election-year ploy that wasted precious time on the legislative calendar.

"This is not about the preservation of marriage. This is about the preservation of a majority," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, said as debate started Wednesday. "I think, sadly, most people realize there's political motivation here."

Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, denounced the proposed amendment Tuesday as "an instrument of bigotry and prejudice," which he said was designed by the GOP leadership "to try to bring Republican senators out of the ditch of disapproval."

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said that "the reason the Senate Republicans are pushing this marriage amendment is because they don't want to address the real issues of this country."

"This is an effort by the president and the majority in the House and the Senate to distort, to misdirect what the real issues are," he said.

The vote began around 10 a.m., after a final hour of debate. The Senate began debate on the amendment Monday afternoon.

Even if the measure had been able to clear the procedural vote, a two-thirds majority -- 67 votes -- would be required for final approval by the Senate of a constitutional amendment -- an even higher hurdle to overcome.

The last time the Senate voted on the amendment, in July 2004, only 48 senators supported it and 50 were opposed.

Spurred on by religious conservatives in his political base, President Bush had called on the Senate to approve the amendment, saying it was necessary to protect the institution of marriage from state court decisions striking down marriage laws that exclude gay and lesbian couples.

So far that has happened in just one state, Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages became legal in 2003, although court cases are pending in other states.

To become part of the Constitution an amendment needs approval from at least two-thirds of the Senate (67 of the 100 members); at least two-thirds of the House (290 of the 435 members); and three-fourths of the states (38 of the 50 states).

A constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states can also propose an amendment, which would still have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

In the nearly 220 years since the Constitution was written, only 27 amendments have made it through this arduous approval process, the most recent in 1992 governing the timing of changes in congressional compensation. No amendment has been suggested by a constitutional convention.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.