- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

President Bush’s spokesman said the White House supports the constitutional amendment that passed a Senate committee Thursday to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the spokesman would not call it a priority and said the administration is taking a wait-and-see approach to next month’s full Senate vote.

“I don’t know whether you want to get into priorities, you know,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said. “I think what you let the Hill do, is that they schedule their votes, they schedule their debates. But the president does support the amendment.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the Federal Marriage Amendment on a party-line vote, sending it to the floor where Majority Leader Bill Frist says it will receive a vote in three weeks.

In anticipation of that vote, social conservatives this week called for Mr. Bush to back up his statements of support during the 2004 campaign by lobbying for the amendment now, the same way he has pushed other top legislative priorities.

But Mr. Snow said the administration is waiting.

“Why don’t we see how the debate proceeds?” he said. “Sometimes you take a look at the votes, sometimes you’ve got the votes, sometimes it’s a dicey issue and you have to make a calculation on how hard you have to push.”

That did not satisfy Tony Perkins, president of the influential Family Research Council, who said the administration appears to be afraid of investing political capital in the issue because there aren’t 67 votes in the Senate to pass the amendment.

“That’s not leadership,” he said. “The president needs to help show, as others are, why we need this amendment, and spend some of his political capital.”

Mr. Perkins said Mr. Bush campaigned heavily on marriage in 2004, and exit polls suggested that was a winning strategy. But as soon as he was elected, Mr. Bush put his efforts into something else.

“He did not hesitate to go out for the losing issue of Social Security reform the day after he was elected. That was barely an issue in the campaign, and it became a crusade for six months and it went nowhere,” he said.

Mr. Perkins specifically credited House and Senate Republican leaders, and Mr. Frist in particular, for driving the issue and said it “is disappointing that the president has not been more vocal in his support for the amendment.”

Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2004 he disagreed with the amendment, and that has given ammunition to groups that oppose amending the Constitution on this issue.

Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual rights group, mentions Mr. Cheney’s opposition in its statements. Yesterday the group’s president, Joe Solmonese, called the Senate debate a “shameful election-year ploy.”

During the previous presidential campaign, Mr. Bush mentioned the marriage issue often.

At an October 2004 campaign stop in Fort Myers, Fla., Mr. Bush said “marriage is a sacred commitment — a pillar of our civilization, and I will defend it.”

But since then he’s been far less emphatic.

And asked two months ago about the issue during a press conference, Mr. Bush was brief in his remarks: “I believe society’s interest are met by defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That’s what I believe.”

This week, at a Republican National Committee fundraising event in Washington, he also mentioned the issue, though briefly: “Ours is a party that believes in the sanctity of marriage.”

Mr. Snow said asking how much of a priority the administration puts on the issue is “an unanswerable question,” but that Mr. Bush has been consistent.

“He wants to defend marriage as an institution and protect it, an institution that involves a man and a woman. I don’t think he could be any more clear about that,” he said.

Some of those who back the amendment say Mr. Bush is following a solid strategy of waiting for the courts to press the issue, which then will elevate it in the minds of voters. Mr. Bush then would be seen responding to the courts rather than driving the issue himself for political gain, they say.

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