Thursday, July 31, 2003

The White House yesterday said President Bush is willing to consider a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which some congressional Republicans say is the only effective option.

Both the president and congressional Republicans are awaiting key state-court decisions before they decide the best course of action. The White House said yesterday that Mr. Bush wants to wait for court rulings in Massachusetts and New Jersey before deciding whether to support a proposed constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage.

That same sentiment came from Capitol Hill, where Senate Republican leadership aides said lawmakers are also awaiting such rulings — especially an impending decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which both sides of the issue expect will legalize same-sex “marriage.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said a constitutional amendment “is something to look at in this context. But we need to see where these court cases come out, and there’s speculation there may be some court rulings soon.”

But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said he thinks the solution to protect traditional marriage “needs to be the constitutional amendment [because] I don’t think you can solve it statutorily.”

A Senate Republican leadership aide predicted congressional Republicans and the White House would eventually agree on the need for an amendment.

“Frankly, all the other options come up short,” the aide said.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, have voiced their support for a constitutional amendment. An aide to Mr. Frist said members of the House and Senate are also exploring ways to defend traditional marriage.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said one option being discussed is to take a statutory approach and revisit the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which states that for federal purposes, marriage is between a man and a woman.

Mr. Cornyn said the law may need to be strengthened, depending on the outcome of state court rulings.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, has sponsored a constitutional amendment in the House that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, but would leave it up to states to decide the specific benefits of marriage.

States could opt to bestow some benefits on same-sex couples, but this would have to be done through civil unions — not marriage — and it would have to be decided by state legislatures, not the courts.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the defense of marriage,” Mrs. Musgrave said in a statement, praising the president’s endorsement of traditional marriage at a Wednesday press conference. “This is evidenced in many ways, but particularly by the number of e-mails and telephone calls I receive in my office. … President Bush is right to make this a national priority and to begin taking action in the defense of marriage.”

An aide to Mrs. Musgrave said a Senate companion to her amendment, which has 78 co-sponsors in the House, will likely be introduced soon.

The most recent Gallup Poll shows declining public support for same-sex “marriage,” with 48 percent in favor, down from 60 percent before a Supreme Court decision in a Texas case that analysts say may pave the way for recognition of such unions.

Key Republican leaders on Capitol Hill yesterday praised Mr. Bush’s vow Wednesday not to compromise on homosexual “marriage.”

“The president laid out that he’s willing to do what it takes to protect the institution of marriage in this country,” Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Frist said the president was on target with his strong statements.

“I support the president’s comments 100 percent,” he said.

Mr. Bush on Wednesday paraphrased a Bible verse suggesting homosexuality is a sin — but noted “we’re all sinners.” Yesterday, the president’s spokesman said Mr. Bush takes a tolerant approach to homosexuals.

“Someone’s sexual orientation is their personal business,” Mr. McClellan said yesterday. “The president is not someone who believes in politicizing someone’s sexual orientation.”

Homosexual groups condemned Mr. Bush’s remarks, and Mr. McClellan tried to avoid adding fuel to that fire yesterday. But the White House spokesman was also careful not to antagonize conservatives.

“The president very much respects people who disagree with his view,” Mr. McClellan said. “But this is a principled stand. This is a view he feels very strongly about, and the president will not compromise on that view.”

Democrats complained loudly about the president’s statements supporting traditional marriage, and some said Mr. Bush is trying to change the subject from more important issues.

“With President Bush’s popularity dropping and the serious problems confronting America worsening, the administration seeks to divert attention by demagoguing on the issue of same-sex unions,” said Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Frank said Mr. Bush’s statements are “a far cry” from October 2000, when his running mate, Dick Cheney, “told a national television audience that the question of same-sex relationships should be left to the states, and that there should be no federal policy on the matter.”

Mr. Frank said the public is now being told to file Mr. Cheney’s remarks, “under the heading of ‘never mind,’ and the American people are to be persuaded that repelling the threat of same-sex couples rivals unemployment, trillions in new debt and a quagmire in Iraq as problems facing the nation.”

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