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Richard Piatt ReportingThe US Senate is debating marriage this week -- a Federal Constitutional Amendment on marriage similar to one in Utah would define marriage as between a man and a woman. But the issue is also impacting the political season. Polls show most Americans favor a traditional, one man-one woman marriage.
And so, in the face of the unknowns of a soaring deficit, war in Iraq, and threats of terrorism, Republicans have a chance to take charge of a key social issue.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "There is nothing more important than marriage and traditional family marriage at that. Nothing more important."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D) California: “This is political. It is to drive a division into the voters of America.”
Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards are taking hits for supporting traditional marriage, but not the Amendment. The debate is making it tough on Utah's only Democrat in Congress too.
Jim Matheson supported the Amendment right after President Bush proposed it. Always a supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act, Matheson is now in a tough spot with formally loyal supporters, the Gay and Lesbian community.
Michael Mitchell, Equality Utah: “The community is ticked off at Jim Matheson.”
Equality Utah's Michael Mitchell says that's in spite of Matheson's support on other gay-friendly issues. Mitchell says people were talking about it at the well-attended Pride Day celebration this year. And the bad blood exists in spite of Matheson's co-sponsorship of Hate Crimes Legislation, support of the Employment Non Discrimination Act, and increases to HIV-AIDS funding.
Michael Mitchell: "This is going to be a deal breaker for a lot of gays and lesbians. And they may decide not to push the button at all."
Matheson needs those votes too. According to political pollster Dan Jones, Matheson is walking a political tightrope.
Dan Jones, Political Pollster: "He can't loose his moderate or conservative base. You see there is not a majority of democrats in the second congressional district."
The Constitutional Amendment is a divisive and emotional issue--perhaps the key social issue of the 2004 campaign. But in Utah, support for both the state and Federal versions is overwhelming and includes the state's only Democrat in Washington.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the Amendment this Wednesday. At this point it is not expected to pass.