Political observers who understand that ideas are the last thing that ever penetrates into the halls of government must grasp that the purpose of the marriage-amendment debate was =not= to pass an amendment to the Constitution.
As evidence I offer the fact that Republicans knew in advance that they didn't have the votes to get that amendment passed. They may be dumb, but they (or at least their advisors) can count to 67. And if even nonprofessional, political naifs such as I am knew they couldn't win, surely those guys (or at least their advisors) knew it. So what was the point?
We see the point by keeping our eye on the ball, which is not legislation or even ideas but power. Its purpose was to be a campaign issue, but not only for the Bush campaign. That is, lots of analysts understand that the failure of the amendment has given Bush a campaign issue. That's only part of the story. The purpose was to get Democratic senators to place themselves on the record as being against the amendment and by implication against traditional (i.e., real) marriage.* The Republicans (liberals and conservatives alike) think that Republicans challenging vulnerable seats held by Democrats can use the debate to tar the incumbent.
That is, the failure of the amendment has not just incidentally become a campaign issue; its purpose was to =create= a campaign issue. It was a tactic, and it must be understood as such.
There are, of course, the ideologues who actually hope to see the amendment pass some day, but they were merely the playthings of the men in the power business. Ideologues certainly can get their issues passed, but only when the power players see it to be in their interest. That one fact explains why some issues are successful and others are not.
As strange as it may be to contemplate -- and I admit here to speculating -- the mental act of believing, familiar to the bulk of mankind, does not seem to actually take place in men jockeying for power. They do not have beliefs. They have positions (a point first made, I believe, by Joe Sobran during the 2000 campaign). They are like a chess player who places his knight on a square from which it can control the center of the board. He does not do it because he believes that the square belongs to the knight or because he believes that the knight is just and true. He does it because he thinks it will be of value to him later in the game. Similarly the marriage-amendment debate was not conducted by men acting on beliefs; it was conducted by men taking and establishing positions which they expect to benefit them later on.
* It would be interesting to pursue this analysis to see whether there are Democrats facing potentially difficult challenges who were "allowed" to vote in favor of the amendment.