WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate dealt a double blow to gay-rights activists Tuesday, voting to reject same-sex marriage in federal law and killing a separate bill that would have barred job discrimination against gays.
The Senate approved the Defense of Marriage Act, 85-14, sending it to President Clinton, who said he will sign it. The House approved the same bill by a 5-to-1 margin in July.
"This should not be cause for any sort of discrimination or gay bashing," Clinton said, adding that he regretted that the discrimination bill had failed.
Conservatives hailed both votes as validation of their views.
"This is a string of major victories for the pro-family movement that demonstrates on the threshold of a major presidential election that the political debate is moving in our direction," said Ralph Reed, leader of the Christian Coalition.
"The drive for the acceptance of same-sex or same-gender marriage should serve as an indication that we have drawn too close to the edge and that we as a people are on the verge of trying so hard to please a few that we destroy the values and spiritual beliefs of the many," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
The marriage bill defines marriage in federal law as a legal union between one man and one woman and allows a state to refuse to honor a same-sex marriage performed in any other state. States would still have the authority to legalize gay marriages, but the federal government would not recognize them.
"The traditional family has stood for 5,000 years. It is the oldest institution that exists," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. "Are we so wise today that we are ready to reject 5,000 years of recorded history? I don't think so."
Twenty-six of the Senate's 47 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the marriage bill but also voted for the anti-discrimination measure. The two votes underscored the political predicament faced by senators who historically have supported gay rights causes.
Supporters called the bill a pre-emptive strike against a lawsuit that went to trial Tuesday that could lead Hawaii to become first state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
The Senate voted 50-49 to reject the discrimination bill, which would have forbid employers from using sexual orientation as a basis for hiring, firing, promotion or compensation.
Supporters said the vast majority of Americans believe that homosexuals should be free to earn a living without fear of hostility.
But opponents warned that the bill would lead to a deluge of lawsuits and said employers should be able to refuse to hire a gay person if they have moral or religious beliefs that condemn homosexuality.
"This bill would validate a lifestyle that is unacceptable," said Majority Leader Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
Gay activists said they were disappointed, but would immediately begin lobbying supporters of the anti-discrimination bill to introduce it again before Congress adjourns this fall, perhaps as an amendment to another bill.
Had Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., been present on the Senate floor, he likely would have voted for the bill, making the vote 50-50, said David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country's largest gay political groups.
"We could pass this with Pryor's vote and with Vice President Al Gore breaking the tie," he said. "We are going to consider moving this on another bill this Congress."
Pryor was at the bedside of his 33-year-old son, who had cancer surgery Monday, said Bo Morrison, Pryor's secretary.
"He felt he could not leave his son's bedside during the very critical recovery period on Tuesday," Morrison said.
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, predicted that gays eventually will win the right to marry despite the vote.
"We are appalled over the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act," Birch said. "Denying lesbian and gay Americans equal marriage rights will not stand over the long term in this country. The Human Rights Campaign vows to continue to this fight legislatively and in our country's courts of law and public opinion."
The Defense of Marriage Act is H.R. 3396; the anti-discrimination bill is S. 2056.