Thursday, May 18, 2006

Social conservatives say President Bush must work harder before next month’s scheduled Senate vote to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, and some even say the White House is sending all the wrong signals on the issue.

“The only thing we’re hearing now from the administration are either comments that are totally opposed to the amendment or those that appear to be opposed to the amendment,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “The president needs to speak to the issue just as passionately as he did in the campaign.”

Conservatives said Mr. Bush could stand to push the Federal Marriage Amendment, especially given his faltering support among his base and the widespread support for defining marriage as the union of a man and a women.

“It’s always useful for him, as well as the issue, when he can identify with something that has 70-75 percent support, in contrast with some of the other issues right now,” said Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, referring to issues such as the president’s position on immigration.

A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed that 45 percent of self-identified conservatives disapprove of Mr. Bush’s job performance, and analysts have pointed to issues such as immigration and spending as the culprits.

After Monday night’s national prime-time Oval Office address on immigration, Mr. Perkins wrote an e-mail to supporters wondering why Mr. Bush has never done that for an issue such as marriage, which matters so much to social conservatives.

“It’s not that we are demanding this, but when the First Lady is disparaging the issue, and when the Vice President lets stand unrebutted Mary Cheney’s claims, we think some demonstration of presidential leadership is warranted — and overdue,” he wrote.

The constitutional amendment is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee today and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has set a time for a Senate floor vote the week of June 5.

In recent weeks, Laura Bush has told Fox News that she doesn’t think the issue should be used in campaigns, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary has been highlighting her father’s past opposition to the amendment during a tour for her book.

“Amending the Constitution with this amendment, this piece of legislation, is a bad piece of legislation,” Miss Cheney, a lesbian, told Fox News, adding that the amendment was “writing discrimination into the Constitution.”

In 2004, Mr. Bush, in a five-minute address from the White House Roosevelt Room, called for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage. He said the 2003 Massachusetts court decision that legalized same-sex “marriages” for that state and the actions of mayors across the country who began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples made it clear that Congress must act.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said flatly, “Our position on this issue is well-known and unchanged.”

Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, which helped draft the amendment, said Mrs. Bush was right when she said the issue shouldn’t be part of politics because the issue is so fundamental. He also said the White House has a plan and is right to stick to it.

“It may not be to the liking of some conservative groups, but it is a reasonable strategy, and the strategy is to wait until there’s an egregious abuse by the courts and then respond,” he said. “They do not want to be seen as driving this issue. As we all know, the courts are driving the issue.”

The Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual rights group, yesterday highlighted Mrs. Bush’s recent comments and Mr. Cheney’s stance in a statement on today’s Senate committee vote.

The group said the issue is being fueled in Congress by “the far right’s discontent with the administration and congressional leadership.”

The amendment 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. Perkins said that exit polls in 2004 showed that social conservatives helped Mr. Bush win the presidential race but that Mr. Bush’s actions since then haven’t followed through.

“Clearly, something needs to be said by this president to make clear his position has not changed and that he is actively encouraging this Congress to make the next step,” he said. “The threat to marriage is greater today than it was in the campaign of 2004.”

A Georgia court Tuesday threw out that state’s voter-approved ban on homosexual “marriage,” ruling that it violated state rules on how a ballot question could be written. State officials said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Conservatives said the ruling was another example of the threat judges pose to marriage, although Mr. Daniels said the biggest test will come when the Washington state Supreme Court rules on its ban. Mr. Daniels said that if the ban is overturned, Washington law would be more expansive than Massachusetts’ because out-of-state couples could seek a union in Washington.

Mr. Bauer said he has received many e-mails from his supporters asking when the president is going to get involved and start fighting on the issue.

He said there’s a model for Mr. Bush to follow if he’s serious about getting the amendment passed.

“I’d like to see him use the same aggressive approach as he did on the Medicare drug program — that is, he called individual members and politely but firmly twisted their arms to get it done. I think that on this issue, where there’s widespread public support, he should do the same.”

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