- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

From combined dispatches

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday left open the prospect of a system of civil unions for same-sex couples amid the raging debate over homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. Ashcroft said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that he supported President Bush’s call to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

But he declined to comment on the Bush administration’s stance on civil unions, which would grant same-sex couples many of the same rights enjoyed by married couples.

“That’s a very complex question that I’m not going to make a recommendation on. We’re doing research on that now,” Mr. Ashcroft told the television program.

Only Vermont recognizes civil unions, but the Massachusetts Supreme Court is considering the issue and is expected to establish a right to “marry” someone of the same sex.

The issue has sharpened since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overruled a Texas state law banning sodomy and Canada moved to legalize homosexual “marriage.”

Surveys in recent years have found growing public acceptance for civil unions, but Mr. Bush’s remarks Wednesday, followed one day later by a Vatican message calling on Catholics around the world to oppose the redefinition of marriage, rekindled the debate.

Yesterday on Fox, the leader of a prominent pro-homosexual group also seemed to leave open the prospect of a civil union short of marriage.

“I think what the president was trying to say is, ‘Let’s be fair and good as a people, but this goes too far.’ And I would encourage the president, and the American people, because this is a very controversial issue, people are grappling with it,” said Elizabeth Birch, head of the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign.

She would not answer explicitly when pressed on whether a system of civil unions short of marriage would satisfy pro-homosexual groups.

“What people are hung up on is the word ‘marriage,’” she said. “We’re debating gay marriage in a context when there is not a single federal law that takes care of gay people in any way, not in terms of employment, Social Security, inheritance, you name it.

“What I’m trying to say is, try to separate the religious from the secular or civil and that license opens up a world of fairness that people should at least consider,” she told Fox.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said he would consider a constitutional amendment banning homosexual “marriage” if the Massachusetts court decided to recognize such unions.

“If Massachusetts decides that there is a U.S. constitutional right, then … people from other states can go to Massachusetts, get married and come back and claim that they should be permitted in other states,” he said.

“Marriage is not about affirming somebody’s love for somebody else. It’s about uniting together to be open to children, to further civilization in our society.”

The United States has explicitly prohibited federal recognition of same-sex “marriages” since 1996 when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which also gave individual states the option not to recognize such ceremonies performed in other states.

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