- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

President Bush yesterday told Congress to pass an amendment defining marriage in the U.S. Constitution and send it to the states for ratification, saying that’s the only way to decide the issue through the democratic process rather than the courts.

“Take this issue out of the hands of overreaching judges and put it back where it belongs — in the hands of the American people,” he told dozens of leaders from religious and pro-family groups in a speech yesterday.

He said an amendment is the most democratic solution because it requires two-thirds approval in the House and Senate and ratification by legislatures in three-fourths of the states.

The president is staking out a position while trying to avoid being seen as driving the issue for political purposes, and in his 10-minute speech, he blamed “activist judges” and “activist courts” four times for forcing the issue.

But politics is exactly what Democrats said was going on as the Senate took up the Marriage Protection Amendment yesterday, following through on a promise by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

“They intend to stir up an election-year fight and use it as a campaign tool and a political strategy,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “Right now, we should be addressing America’s top priorities, including ways to make America safer or the war in Iraq, or the rising gas prices.”

The amendment is not expected to pass — or for that matter even to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. A vote is scheduled for tomorrow.

Both Republicans and Democrats are using the debate to try to score political points with supporters.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) used the Senate’s marriage-amendment debate to criticize the Democratic challenger to Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican facing a tough re-election battle.

They chided Democrat Bob Casey Jr. for not speaking at a Saturday meeting in Pittsburgh of the Stonewall Democrats, a homosexual rights group that supports him. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean did speak to the group.

“The fact that Casey Jr. is having Howard Dean stand in for him speaks volumes about his political courage,” said NRSC spokesman Dan Ronayne. “When given a chance to stand up for something, Casey Jr. comes up empty again.”

From the other side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out an e-mail to supporters yesterday from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, blasting Republicans.

“It’s election season and down-in-the-polls Republicans are turning to their same old playbook — fear and division,” wrote Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We need a president and a Congress that doesn’t play divisive politics.”

The amendment being debated in the Senate reads: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”

Mr. Bush said it would create a national definition of marriage but would leave to state legislatures the issue of civil unions or other legal benefit arrangements for unmarried partners.

He called marriage “the most enduring and important human institution” and said changing the definition would undermine it.

Before speaking in an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the president met in the White House Roosevelt Room for more than a half-hour with a small group of leaders.

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, which helped craft the Senate language, attended the meeting and said the president and leaders present all agreed marriage should be a unifying issue, not a divisive one.

Mr. Daniels said he told the president that he was raised on welfare by a single mother in Spanish Harlem in New York. He said Mr. Bush marveled at that, saying, “That’s a long way from where I grew up.”

Mr. Daniels said he responded that the issue of marriage “bridges the gap of where you come from and where I come from.”

Conservative leaders said they were happy with Mr. Bush’s emphatic endorsement of the amendment.

“It left no room for misinterpretation,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

One key question for conservatives is how much effort the president will put into working senators on the issue.

Both Mr. Perkins and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said they expected the White House to make phone calls to senators on the issue as a way of showing their commitment, but the White House did not rule that in or out.

White House press secretary Tony Snow cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Bush’s efforts both yesterday and Saturday, when he devoted his weekly radio address to the issue.

“I don’t know [that] this counts as lobbying. The president has issued a radio address restating his position, and he is meeting with some supporters of the amendment,” he said.

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