President Bush yesterday said the sudden spate of homosexual "marriages" in San Francisco, which two judges Tuesday refused to halt, is influencing his decision on whether to endorse a constitutional amendment banning such ceremonies.
One senior official said the rapid pace of developments in recent days has moved the president to act "sooner rather than later," perhaps making an announcement within days.
Within the past week, more than 2,600 homosexual couples from around the world have flocked to San Francisco to take advantage of the city's act of civil disobedience in registering and performing homosexual "marriages," contrary to state law.
In recent days, one judge has twice delayed a hearing seeking to enjoin the marriages and another suggested the city stop issuing the licenses until a late March hearing. But the city refused and is continuing to create "marriages." Some homosexual advocates predict that dissolving existing "marriages" will be politically tougher than preventing them in the first place.
Homosexual leaders said earlier this week that White House officials had told them no action was likely until the San Francisco courts weigh in on the city's actions, and perhaps not until the Massachusetts legislature decides a similar issue next month. Massachusetts is considering whether to amend its constitution to overturn a state Supreme Judicial Court decision that legalizes homosexual "marriage."
But senior White House officials said yesterday that the rapid pace of developments is moving the president closer to a public show of support for an amendment.
For his part, Mr. Bush was measured in his response to questions yesterday about developments in San Francisco and Massachusetts.
"I am troubled by activist judges who are defining marriage. I have watched carefully what's happened in San Francisco, where licenses were being issued even though the law states otherwise," the president said in the Oval Office.
"I'm watching very carefully. But I'm troubled by what I've seen. People need to be involved with this decision. Marriage ought to be defined by the people, not by the courts. And I'm watching it carefully," he said.
Mr. Bush also said he "strongly" believes that marriage should be defined as a union of a man and a woman.
"I'll support law to protect marriage between a man and a woman. And obviously these events are influencing my decision," he said.
But he declined to say whether he would support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, such as the one offered by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, and co-sponsored by 103 other Republicans and eight Democrats. The proposed constitutional amendment defines marriage as only "the union of a man and a woman."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush is "prepared to look to the constitutional process because that would be the only alternative available if activist judges continue to redefine marriage."
As thousands of homosexual couples take vows in San Francisco, the scene has been splashed on front pages and repeatedly shown on network news programs.
Homosexual leaders said the president is being pressured by conservatives, some of whom are demanding that Mr. Bush step into the fray.
"No doubt they're getting calls," said Mark Mead, political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, which opposes a federal marriage amendment. "There's a potential backlash on this issue."
Mr. Mead said the president has had several opportunities to announce his position on the matter, but has chosen not to. "They keep softballing the question to him, and he keeps demurring."
But he said Bush administration officials he has talked to "keep saying, 'We don't need to weigh in on this. There's plenty of time. We're going to wait to see what Massachusetts does.' Now maybe they're trying to get ahead of this."
Mr. Mead also said the president might decide to speak now in order to avoid saying something on the polarizing issue during the height of the presidential campaign.