One of the main issues of the upcoming elections is gay marriage. From city halls to Washington, D.C., supporters from both sides of the issue are pressuring lawmakers to take action.
the center of the debate are questions about the boundaries between
state and federal laws, conflicting views on the role marriage
plays in American life and how to define marriage.
In the 2004 presidential election, the Republican Party rallied the support of its conservative base by putting referendums banning gay marriage on the ballot, which many believe helped with a high voter turnout among its ranks.
As the Nov. 7 midterm election approaches, the gay marriage debate again takes the front burner.
In June, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., with President Bush's backing proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The amendment failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority needed for approval. A similar push in the Senate in 2004 also failed.
Many Senate Democrats said they opposed gay marriage, but also opposed a constitutional amendment essentially banning it.
Democrats now accuse President Bush and Republicans of using the gay marriage amendment to reconnect with conservative who are disappointed by setbacks in Iraq and the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, according to The Washington Post.
"For me, it is clear the reason for this debate is to divide our society, to pit one against another. This is another one of the president's efforts to frighten, to distort and to confuse America," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
But some political observers say the majority of Americans believe in preserving marriage for a man and woman.
"Seventy-one percent of the people in the 19 states who have voted on protecting traditional marriage have voted for protecting the traditional marriage. So we know this is a very popular issue when put to the people," said Kellyanne Conway of the Polling Co., which works mostly for Republicans, on the June 5 NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
This election cycle six states -- Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin -- have ballot initiatives that would ban same-sex marriage. The issue also could play a role in competitive Senate campaigns in Pennsylvania, Montana, Missouri and Ohio.
The political firestorm over gay marriage heated up in November 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay couples in the state were entitled to marry. In the 4-3 ruling, the court declared "that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution." The ruling closely matched a 1999 Vermont Supreme Court decision, which led to that state's legislature approving civil unions that give couples many of the same benefits of marriage.
During his state of the union address in January 2004, President Bush hinted at support for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriages: "If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will on the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process."
In February 2004, the city of San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses regardless of gender. Thousands of same sex couples, many coming from out of the state, waited on the steps of the San Francisco City Hall for the chance to wed. San Francisco issued more than 4,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples between Feb. 11 and March 11, when the California Supreme Court ordered City Hall to stop.
The spectacle of gay marriages in Massachusetts and California -- as well as cities in New York and Oregon -- caused many conservatives to look towards a national, and final, solution.