Sen. Frist's Missionary Positioning: Playing Politics With The Constitution

Any doubts that the Senate vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment was a Religious Right-driven election-year scheme should have evaporated the morning of July 14. With the vote just minutes away, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) took time out from his busy schedule to conduct a live interview on TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" program.

Robertson introduced Frist as "the man who has led the fight on this issue from the start" and asked him a series of softball questions, mostly designed to give Frist an opportunity to attack the Democrats.

"Marriage is the cornerstone of our society," Frist declared, adding that while he was sure the amendment would not pass this time, it was important "to get a positioning of every United States senator."

Remarked Frist, "Unfortunately, we're probably not going to win the procedural vote today. But the journey has just begun."

Robertson expressed his amazement that the Democrats refuse to stand up for "traditional marriage" and concluded the interview by thanking Frist for his "courageous fight on this issue."

Frist continued the love fest, telling Robertson, "Pat, thank you and thanks for your tremendous leadership. The journey has just begun."

What "leadership" would that be? Robertson is best known for his outrageous antics. This is the man who said the first President Bush and Jimmy Carter may be agents of Lucifer, who threatened Orlando with hurricanes and meteors for flying the rainbow flag, who said Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians had the "spirit of the Antichrist" and who blamed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on court decisions against school prayer and government display of the Ten Commandments. But nonetheless, Robertson today is a faithful ally of President George W. Bush and the GOP, and he's sure to use his religious broadcasting empire to help Republican candidates this fall.

That's where the marriage amendment comes in. The constitutional change had nowhere near the two-thirds support needed for Senate passage. Frist and his allies didn't even have the votes to bring the amendment to the Senate floor. When the final tally came, only 48 senators voted to bring up the amendment, 12 short of the 60 required.

Why stage a vote on a measure everyone knows cannot pass? Doesn't the Senate have better things to do? Frist's comments to Robertson made it clear what this was all about: The vote wasn't about the amendment; it was about getting a "positioning" of every senator.

Look for the vote to surface on Religious Right voter guides this fall.