- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

President Bush’s support this week for legally defining marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman followed strong public — and behind the scenes — pressure from religious and social conservatives.

The president’s campaign strategists have acknowledged repeatedly since the 2000 election that without the enthusiastic support of these conservatives, Mr. Bush will find re-election difficult.

Mr. Bush’s political aides have publicly lamented that more than 4 million evangelical voters stayed home instead of voting Republican in 2000, making the presidential contest far closer than it would have otherwise been.

Many social conservative leaders and spokesmen yesterday said they were not surprised by Mr. Bush’s strong statement at a Wednesday press conference.

“I can’t imagine him doing anything other than endorsing traditional marriage,” said Gary Bauer, a social-conservative leader who was a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan White House. “It would be political suicide to do otherwise.”

Mr. Bauer said the president’s support of traditional marriage vindicates social conservatives’ opposition to recent Republican outreach efforts to homosexual activists.

“The sudden catapulting [of the same-sex ‘marriage’ issue] to the top of the agenda shows why it is a tremendous waste of time for Republican leaders to attempt to satisfy a movement whose basic goals are so contrary to the values of Republican voters,” Mr. Bauer said.

Earlier this year, Marc Racicot, Mr. Bush’s handpicked choice as Republican National Committee chairman, outraged religious and social conservatives when he addressed a national homosexual-rights group.

Some conservative leaders, who have at times complained that the Bush administration was trying to appease liberal voters, gave a “trust but verify” response to the president’s Wednesday announcement.

“We’re going to take him at his word that he supports traditional marriage,” said Connie Mackey, vice president for governmental affairs for the Family Research Council.

The president is “heading in the right direction. We’ll be watching,” she said. She said her group wants to make sure that in defending marriage, the president also means that its legal benefits apply only to unions of a man and a woman.

Mr. Bauer said the president’s stance leaves uncertain whether he will support a constitutional amendment, “which most people feel is the only way to assure … that we don’t have the courts forcing homosexual marriage on the people.”

Mr. Bush repeatedly spoke of his Christian beliefs while running for president as a conservative with a strong moral principles. Social-conservative leaders yesterday said they were committed to holding Mr. Bush’s feet to the fire on those principles.

“This defense of marriage is a good beginning, but we are hoping the president will show more moral leadership and defend the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army against radical, homosexual activists who are trying to put them out of business,” said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women of America’s Culture and Family Institute.

While social-conservative leaders say they have access to the White House and to Mr. Bush’s top political strategist, Karl Rove, many have been growing restive.

“It’s no secret that social-issue groups like ours have said about the president and his administration at times, ‘Look, what are we getting for our support?’” said Genevieve Wood, a vice president of the Family Research Council.

“We were favorable to things like his child-tax credit,” she said, “but we need him to stand up for the sanctity of life and, increasingly, the sanctity of marriage.”

Miss Wood said the president “has the bully pulpit, and we appreciate the way he said what he said yesterday.”

At his Wednesday press conference, Mr. Bush went further than ever in suggesting that homosexual unions should not be legal, despite a recent Supreme Court decision striking down Texas sodomy laws, and despite a pending case in Massachusetts that might legalize same-sex “marriage” in that state.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that, one way or the other,” Mr. Bush said.

While some conservatives remain skeptical, the New York State Conservative Party was unambiguous in praising the president’s position. Chairman Michael R. Long said at a news conference yesterday: “In an era when being politically correct is the most important factor to some politicians, we are proud to stand with President Bush, who continues to support the values that made America the leaders of the free world.”

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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