The US Senate Thursday rejected a health care amendment that would have ended a gay marriage law in the District of Columbia.

Utah Senator Bob Bennett, a Republican, introduced his amendment to the health care reconciliation bill on Tuesday. The measure's statement of purpose said: “To protect the democratic process and the right of the people of the District of Columbia to define marriage.”

The measure sought to stop the issuance of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in the District until voters could weigh in on the issue.

“This bill does not take any position with respect to gay marriage, simply allows the district to hold a referendum,” Bennett said on the Senate floor.

Utah lawmakers have led the charge to end gay nuptials in the District. Jason Chaffetz, a freshman Republican representative, introduced a House resolution in January to block the law from taking effect. Bennett offered a similar measure in the Senate. Neither resolution received a hearing.

Opponents of the law made a last-ditch attempt to derail the March 3 start of the law by appealing to the Supreme Court. In denying an emergency stay, Chief Justice John Roberts said the court was unlikely to take up the measure.

Two Republican senators – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine – crossed the aisle to join all Democrats in defeating the amendment with a 59 to 36 vote.

Five senators, including Ohio Senator George Voinovich, a Republican, did not vote.