The House voted 236-187 earlier this month to reject a proposed amendment to the constitution that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples. In June, the Senate rejected the amendment, falling 11 votes short of the 60 needed to end debate and bring it to a yes-or-no decision. Religious conservatives promise to continue their efforts.

"On these constitutional amendments, you don't get a good amount of support except over time," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., who sponsored the amendment.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrote senators, urging them to pass the amendment. "Although the full impact of same-sex marriage may not be measured for decades or generations," Romney said, "we are beginning to see the effects of the new legal logic in Massachusetts just two years into our state's social experiment." Catholic Charities stopped its adoption program because the state required them to place children in homosexual homes. Parents complained when a second-grade teacher read aloud a story in which a prince marries another prince, rather than a princess. The superintendent responded that the school was "teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts, same-sex marriage is legal."

Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, said states that choose to legalize gay marriage will necessarily pressure their schools to define marriage broadly. "But if it's only legal in three or four states," he said, "then that is where we'll see the conflict. I don't think it will be a huge deal."

Rauch, who supports gay marriage, said proponents of the federal marriage amendment are exaggerating the threat to other states. "Assuming the federal amendment doesn't ever get shaken loose, then what you see is exactly ...

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