Battle over Gay Marriage Not over, Both Sides Vow; after the Senate Rejects a Constitutional Ban, Attention Turns to Possible State Laws

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Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

No way is the fight about same-sex unions over, even after the U.S. Senate's rejection Wednesday of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Religious conservatives and gay activists alike told the Times-Union their resolve was strengthened by the 49-48 vote that, for now anyway, put the brakes on the federal amendment effort promoted heavily by President Bush.

"This is still alive -- we expect it to come back again and again until it is passed," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, a Washington-based family-values organization that lobbied for the amendment.

Leaders on both sides of the issue predicted Florida will be a battleground as activists intensify their campaigns for and against amendments banning same-sex unions in those states.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a gay-rights group based in St. Petersburg, said the Senate's action energizes existing efforts to defeat a gay marriage ban in the signature-gathering phase in Florida.

Mat Staver, president of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel and a supporter of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, said a similar effect is being felt on the other side.

"In Florida, it's certainly going to cause us to redouble our efforts," Staver said.

Wednesday's vote fell 11 short of the 60 required to send the matter for an up-or-down tally -- called cloture -- in the Senate.

The amendment would have prohibited states from recognizing same-sex marriages. To become ratified, it would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then would have to be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, voted against the bill. Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican voted in favor.

In a statement e-mailed to the Times-Union, Nelson said he supports the definition of marriage contained in the measure but said existing state and federal laws are sufficient to protect marriage. …