President Bush yesterday urged the prompt passage of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and stop attempts in several states to sanction homosexual “marriages.”
“If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America,” Mr. Bush said in a statement delivered in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Mr. Bush stopped short of endorsing the language in a constitutional amendment offered by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Sen. Wayne Allard, both Colorado Republicans, which White House spokesman Scott McClellan said this month “reflects the principles that he could support.”
The president’s likely Democratic rival in November, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, quickly denounced any amendment as “toying with United States Constitution for political purposes” and said that if given the chance, he would vote against it in the Senate.
“All Americans should be concerned when a president who is in political trouble tries to tamper with the Constitution of the United States at the start of his re-election campaign,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday.
For now, there is no set schedule for either the House or Senate even to debate an amendment, in part because Republicans can’t agree on what the amendment should say.
But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said that in the end, the Republican-controlled Congress will do “anything and everything available to us to protect marriage.”
Mr. Bush has said for weeks that he’s “troubled” by a ruling by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts and a decision by the mayor of San Francisco to authorize “marriages” between homosexuals, but until yesterday he resisted pressure from conservative supporters to explicitly endorse a constitutional amendment.
“After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization,” he said. “Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard.”
In 1996, Congress overwhelming passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defined marriage under federal law as the union between only one man and one woman.
Mr. Kerry was one of only 14 senators to vote against the law, although he maintains that he believes “marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and Mr. Kerry’s top presidential rival, said he doesn’t “personally support gay marriage myself” but, like Mr. Kerry, thinks it is a question for the states to decide.
“We have had our Constitution for more than 200 years,” Mr. Edwards said. “We amended it to abolish slavery and ensure women could vote. We should not amend it over politics.”
Mr. McClellan explained that as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush would have opposed legalizing same-sex civil unions. But yesterday, Mr. Bush said a constitutional amendment protecting marriage should leave “state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage” for homosexuals.