The US Senate has rejected calls for a gay marriage ban.

The law, supported by US President George W Bush, would have amended the Constitution to deny States the ability to define marriage themselves, mandating that marriage be only between one man and one woman, and would deny all benefits of marriage to all unmarried couples.

But the Senate’s rejection will add protection to married gay couples in Massachusetts, where same sex couples can marry, and could see increase calls for marriage to be opened up for the gay community in other States such as New York.

A similar bill was rejected in 2004 and even supporters of this year’s Federal Marriage Amendment act were unsure that it would have enough support to be passed.

Their predictions were right after a vote of 49 to 48 meant supporters were way short of the 60 required.

Democrats called the amendment the latest in a long line of cowardly bows to the religious right and is in direct conflict to on of the GOP’s long-standing commitment to keeping big government out of state’s issues.

“A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry pure and simple,” Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, where the state Supreme Court legalised gay marriages in 2003, told the Associated Press.

Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian, has long said he believes the personal relationships of gays and lesbians should not be a political issue. Earlier this year, First Lady Laura Bush said she felt it was a mistake to make gay marriage a political issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union strongly condemned President Bush for publicly supporting the proposal.

Mr Bush voiced support for the amendment earlier this week, although sources claim he was just fulfilling political obligations, “Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them,” he said.

“And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure.”

Liam Curran, the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Right’s International Officer, praised the decision, he told PinkNews.co.uk:

“This is a timely show of good sense from the Senate, shining a light on the bitter and twisted prejudices of George W Bush and his Republican followers.

“It is telling that there has been hardly any movement since the last vote, defeated by Democrats in 2004. America’s LGBT community can feel reassured that while the White House champions discrimination and promotes hatred, there is a place where LGBT life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean something, the Senate.”