President Bush yesterday declined to support a constitutional amendment banning homosexual “marriages,” despite Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s strong endorsement of such a ban.
“I don’t know if it’s necessary yet,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. “Let’s let the lawyers look at the full ramifications of the recent Supreme Court hearing.”
He was referring to the 6-3 decision by the high court on Thursday to overturn Texas’ ban on sodomy, a ruling that some conservatives fear will pave the way for the legalization of homosexual “marriages.”
“What I do support is the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman,” the president said.
His comments fell short of Mr. Frist’s vigorous endorsement of a constitutional ban on same-sex “marriages.” Asked Sunday whether he supports such an amendment, the Tennessee Republican said: “I absolutely do, of course I do.”
Mr. Bush’s remarks were seen as tepid by some conservatives, including those who are unsure whether a constitutional amendment is the best strategy for ensuring that homosexual “marriages” would remain illegal under the law.
“We’d like to see him take it up a notch,” said Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council. “The country needs leadership on this.”
Although Mrs. Wood agrees with Mr. Bush’s assertion that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” she said the president could go further.
“As the issue escalates, obviously his rhetoric is going to have to escalate,” she said. “We would like to see him get in front of the issue more forcefully in the future and not always just be responding to the courts — to be more proactive.”
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer defended Mr. Bush’s wait-and-see approach, pointing out that the Supreme Court decision is barely a week old. He said it was too soon to weigh that ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned homosexual “marriages.”
“I don’t know that there is any clear assessment that anybody has at this point about the legal ramifications of a just-made decision that was ruled on a basis that may or may not be analogous to the situation involving DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act,” Mr. Fleischer told reporters.
Mr. Frist waited three days after the court ruling to call for a constitutional ban.
“I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament, and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between what [has] traditionally in our Western values been defined as between a man and a woman,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “So I would support the amendment.”
Mr. Frist’s office declined to comment on the remarks by the president yesterday.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush vowed, for the second day in a row, to crush insurgents who have been attacking U.S. forces in Iraq. He effectively dared the guerrillas to challenge U.S. troops.
“Bring ‘em on,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.”
Mr. Fleischer said such rhetoric does not risk inviting more attacks.
“I don’t think people in Iraq who are loyal to Saddam Hussein are going to or not going to attack based on a news conference,” he said. “They’re going to attack because that’s what they do, that’s what they’ve done as long as they were in power and that’s what they continue to do.”
Mr. Bush reiterated his determination not to be scared out of Iraq by the remnants of Saddam’s forces.
“There’s people there that would like to run us out of there, create the conditions where we get nervous and decide to leave,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re not going to get nervous, and we’re not leaving until we accomplish the task.”
Mr. Bush also insisted that he and his advisers did not overstate warnings about Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction.
“He had them,” the president said.
“And it’s just a matter of time” before allied forces find them, he added.
“We’ve been there, what, how many days?” Mr. Bush said. “Eighty, ninety? Frankly, it wasn’t all that long ago that we started military operations. And we got rid of him much faster than a lot of people thought.”
Although the allies have yet to uncover biological or chemical weapons in Iraq, the president suggested that other evidence of Saddam’s tyranny more than justifies his ouster.
“I mean, we have uncovered some unbelievable scenes,” Mr. Bush said. “They’ve been described to me, what it means to see mass graves opened up, with the remains of men and women and children murdered by that regime.”
“It’s unbelievable what he did,” Mr. Bush added.
During his question-and-answer session with the reporters, the president sounded upbeat about the Middle East peace process.
“We are pleased with the progress in the Middle East,” he said. “I am optimistic, but I also recognize the nature of the Middle East.
“I mean, there are people there who still hate,” Mr. Bush added. “They hate Israel. They hate the idea of peace. They can’t stand the thought of a peaceful state existing side by side with Israel.”
The president also revealed that he had spoken by phone yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Iran and North Korea.
“I thanked him for keeping the pressure on the Iranian government to dismantle any notions they might have of building a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Bush said. “And I appreciate his understanding that the best way to deal with North Korea is to do so in a multinational forum.”