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Republican Congressional Leaders Get Cold Feet on Marriage

Leaders are more focused on the economy ahead of the election.

Republican leaders in the House are avoiding legislation dealing with traditional marriage, Congressional Quarterly(CQ) and Politico report. The economy—not social issues—will be the focus of the congressional agenda.

At the beginning of March, House conservatives introduced the Marriage Protection Act, which would kick all marriage cases from federal courts to states. A second bill would amend the Constitution to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Both pieces of legislation are now off the table.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) cosponsored the federal marriage amendment, but he acknowledged that the issue is not front-and-center on the agenda. "That's not something we're focused on now," Gohmert told Politico.

For conservatives who want to see a debate on the question of marriage, the decision to focus on economic policy is a hiatus, not a retreat from social issues.

"I don't know that people's opinions have changed that much, but what I think has happened is that people realize the dire straits this country has been in and they think we better deal with that before we get back to the social issues," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), sponsor of the Marriage Protection Act.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Republican voters remain against same-sex marriage by three to one, with most of the opposition from evangelicals. The problem electorally for Republicans is the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage among independent voters, now that a majority of them favor allowing same-sex marriage.

The decision by the GOP leaders to put marriage legislation on the back burner disappointed social conservative groups. The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission vice president Barrett Duke told CQ that the Republican leadership in the House should allow a vote on a marriage amendment to the constitution.

"The leadership feels that they don't have the votes. We would like to see more discussion in Congress so that the country could understand the issue and hold members accountable," Duke said. "We will continue to work at the grass roots."

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, wants Congress to be more active in pushing back against the Obama administration on marriage. McClusky told CQ that social conservatives in Congress need to do more than to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the courts.

"I wish that our allies would do more. They are being intimidated into silence by Republican leaders," McClusky said.

Supporters of same-sex marriage introduced their own legislation that would repeal DOMA. The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), cosponsored by 140 Members of Congress, would require the federal government to recognize any marriage approved by a state.

Last week, the act's chief sponsors gave a letter to House Speaker John Boehner asking him to halt defense of DOMA in the federal courts.

"[W]e have long believed that DOMA is unconstitutional. There simply is no legitimate federal interest served by denying married same-sex couples the federal responsibilities and rights that other married couples receive, and the harm caused to these families is unjustifiable," the sponsors wrote.

The House of Representatives will continue its support of DOMA in the courts, even as it avoids marriage debates.

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