- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

The start of same-sex “marriages” in Massachusetts yesterday — just six months before the presidential elections — all but guarantees that President Bush and Sen. John Kerry will have to face the issue in coming months.

But although Republicans say it has the potential to be a winner for Mr. Bush, both parties agree that it is not clear whether he will capitalize on it and whether Mr. Kerry can turn the issue in his favor.

“Both sides are trying to downplay it,” said Mike Schwartz, vice president of government relations at Concerned Women for America, a group that supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriages” and civil unions.

Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Kerry faces the more difficult challenge because he has to oppose same-sex “marriage,” while at the same time oppose a constitutional amendment banning the practice. And he has to do all this, while holding onto his liberal base, including homosexuals.

“He has to walk a tightrope on it,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Given his track record, though, he may be able to pull it off.”

Mr. Bush and Republicans, on the other hand, must decide how strongly to oppose same-sex “marriage,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Republican pollster Q. Whitfield Ayres said the issue cuts for Mr. Bush in key swing states and that Massachusetts “will elevate the visibility of gay marriage as an issue, and that will ultimately help President Bush and hurt Sen. Kerry in the critical swing states.”

In a poll conducted May 3 to 6 and released last week, Mr. Ayres compared states that voted solidly for Mr. Bush in 2000, states that voted solidly for Al Gore, and “swing” states that were closely split.

He found that swing states tend to favor Mr. Bush’s position on the issue slightly.

The majority of voters in all three categories oppose same-sex “marriage,” the poll found, but swing states and Republican states strongly oppose it, 67 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Democratic states oppose it by 53 percent.

And 50 percent of swing-state voters support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage,” while 43 percent oppose it.

Mr. Bush in February came out in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and banning same-sex “marriage,” but has remained relatively quiet on the topic until yesterday, when he reiterated his position in a statement.

“The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has said he opposes same-sex “marriage,” but could allow same-sex civil unions. He opposes amending the Constitution over the issue.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and advocate of the constitutional amendment before Congress, said Mr. Bush would be wise to strongly push the issue because it would motivate his conservative base.

But Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said it’s “playing with fire when you’re using discrimination to motivate,” because most Americans are fundamentally fair and wary of amending the Constitution on this topic.

A Senate Democratic aide said many Republicans are concerned that if they force Congress to vote on the constitutional amendment, “they’ll pay a price in November,” because they’ll be painted as “the party of intolerance.”

Several polls have shown that although a majority of the public opposes same-sex “marriage,” Americans are more cautious about amending the Constitution.

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