re-election campaign, President George W. Bush vowed to push a
constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man
and a woman, and when the issue came up in Congress in June 2006,
he threw it his support.
effort to pass a marriage amendment, which would have effectively
banned same-sex marriage, lacked the two-thirds majority necessary
for passage and died in the Senate.
have been over 10,000 attempts throughout American history to
amend the Constitution, only 27 of these attempts have been successful.
were added during the 20th century, and none in the 21st. The
most recent amendment was the 27th Amendment of 1992, which prohibits
midterm pay raises for Congress.
additions in the 20th century include the 19th Amendment of 1920,
which extended voting rights to women, and the 24th Amendment
of 1964, which abolished poll taxes aimed at denying blacks the
right to vote.
In 1919, the
18th Amendment prohibited the sale or manufacture of alcohol.
The policy was out of step with the mainstream public's wishes,
and in response a booming black market was established that became
the backbone of organized crime. In 1933, the 21st Amendment was
ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment.
recent failures include the Equal Rights Amendment, which would
have prohibited all forms of sex discrimination, and the Flag
Protection Amendment, which would have protected the U.S. flag
from abuse or desecration.
are so few and far between because the process to change the Constitution
is a long and difficult one. The first step can take one of two
routes. The House and Senate can pass an amendment with a two-thirds
majority vote, called a super-majority. Or, two-thirds of the
state legislatures can call a constitutional convention to move
amendment is then submitted to states for consideration, usually
with some kind of time limit (seven years is common). Three-fourths
(38) of the 50 states must ratify the amendment for it to become
part of the Constitution. This is usually done on a state-by-state
basis, although the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition was ratified
through a state convention. While Congress has approved 33 proposed
amendments, the requisite number of state legislatures has only
ratified the current 27.
It is likely
that there will be a drawn-out political and legal struggle over
whether to ban gay marriage, making it improbable that the Constitution
would be amended before the 2004 presidential election.
Compiled by Chris Nammour for the Online NewsHour