WASHINGTON - President Bush and congressional Republicans are aiming the political spotlight this week on efforts to ban gay marriage, with events at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue - all for a constitutional amendment with scant chance of passage but wide appeal among social conservatives.
"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 weekly radio address. "Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all."
The president was to make further remarks Monday in favor of the amendment as the Senate opened three days of debate. Neither chamber, though, is likely to pass the amendment by the two-thirds majority required to send it to the states - three quarters of which would then have to approve it.
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-Tenn. "As such, marriage as an institution should be protected, not redefined."
But Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he will vote against it on the floor but allowed it to survive his panel in part to give the Republicans the debate 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 the ways the FBI spies on journalists who publish classified information.
As that hearing gets under way, debate on the marriage amendment will enter its second day on the Senate floor. All but one of the Senate Democrats - the exception is Ben Nelson of Nebraska - oppose the measure and, with moderate Republicans, are expected to block an up-or-down vote, killing the measure for the year.
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."
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.
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.
The House is expected to consider a $32 billion spending bill that 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.
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.
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.