President Bush yesterday urged the prompt passage of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and stop attempts in several states to sanction homosexual “marriages.”
“If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America,” Mr. Bush said in a statement delivered in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Mr. Bush stopped short of endorsing the language in a constitutional amendment offered by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Sen. Wayne Allard, both Colorado Republicans, which White House spokesman Scott McClellan said this month “reflects the principles that he could support.”
The president’s likely Democratic rival in November, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, quickly denounced any amendment as “toying with United States Constitution for political purposes” and said that if given the chance, he would vote against it in the Senate.
“All Americans should be concerned when a president who is in political trouble tries to tamper with the Constitution of the United States at the start of his re-election campaign,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday.
For now, there is no set schedule for either the House or Senate even to debate an amendment, in part because Republicans can’t agree on what the amendment should say.
But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said that in the end, the Republican-controlled Congress will do “anything and everything available to us to protect marriage.”
Mr. Bush has said for weeks that he’s “troubled” by a ruling by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts and a decision by the mayor of San Francisco to authorize “marriages” between homosexuals, but until yesterday he resisted pressure from conservative supporters to explicitly endorse a constitutional amendment.
“After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization,” he said. “Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard.”
In 1996, Congress overwhelming passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defined marriage under federal law as the union between only one man and one woman.
Mr. Kerry was one of only 14 senators to vote against the law, although he maintains that he believes “marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and Mr. Kerry’s top presidential rival, said he doesn’t “personally support gay marriage myself” but, like Mr. Kerry, thinks it is a question for the states to decide.
“We have had our Constitution for more than 200 years,” Mr. Edwards said. “We amended it to abolish slavery and ensure women could vote. We should not amend it over politics.”
Mr. McClellan explained that as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush would have opposed legalizing same-sex civil unions. But yesterday, Mr. Bush said a constitutional amendment protecting marriage should leave “state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage” for homosexuals.
Conservatives, who make up the bulk of Mr. Bush’s political base, have been disgruntled by what they see as a lack of fiscal discipline by the president and reluctance to take firm public stands on many social issues.
His support of the marriage amendment, however, already has mended some fences.
Gary Bauer, president of American Values, said he was “extremely pleased” with Mr. Bush’s announcement.
“It would have been inconceivable that the president would have sat by while marriage was redefined on his watch,” said Mr. Bauer, who opposed Mr. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and endorsed Sen. John McCain of Arizona after dropping out.
“He’s done the right thing, the courageous thing and now let the debate begin,” Mr. Bauer said.
Some conservative groups, however, were not entirely satisfied.
A spokesman for the Concerned Women for America said the organization is grateful to Mr. Bush for speaking out on this issue, but called his proposal to protect marriage a “defective remedy” because it doesn’t also ban civil unions for same-sex couples.
“If that amendment authorizes state legislatures to confer the entire legal substance of marriage (without the name of marriage) upon persons who are not married, then it takes away with one hand and gives with the other,” Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations for CWA, said in a statement.
Mr. Bauer, however, said most conservatives won’t fault the president for not also proposing a ban on the civil unions.
“We’ve all been talking to people on Capitol Hill and it’s been absolutely clear in those conversations that in the current Congress, it would be impossible to get something that went the whole way,” said Mr. Bauer, adding that conservative activists would continue to fight civil union laws “step by step.”
In Congress, there’s a growing sentiment among Republicans to do something, though there is a strong disagreement over how far to go.
A Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing next week and could begin voting on specific legislation in March. The House appears to be moving more slowly, with Mr. DeLay yesterday saying there is no timetable for passage.
He and other Republicans agreed with Mr. Bush that the issue has been foisted on them by the courts.
“We’ve seen that this issue has caught on like a brush fire across the country, showing up in places like San Francisco, Chicago, New Mexico. Even in Austin, Texas, people have shown up seeking a marriage license for same-sex marriages,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
For their part, Democratic leaders are lining up to oppose an amendment.
“The United States Constitution is not a place for political wedge issues,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Never before has a constitutional amendment been used to discriminate against a group of people, and we must not start now.”
Other Democrats said they do believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but said they don’t believe the time has come for an amendment because the federal courts have not yet overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.
To pass, an amendment must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, then be ratified by majority vote in three-fourths, or 38, state legislatures.
Many polls reflect strong opposition to homosexual “marriage” and a majority in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage strictly between one man and one woman.
A poll released Saturday by the Boston Globe showed that opposition to homosexual “marriage” jumped 10 percentage points since the state’s Supreme Court Nov. 18 ruling legalizing them.
At the time of the ruling, 48 percent approved of homosexual “marriage,” and only 43 percent were opposed. Last week, 53 percent were opposed and only 35 percent supported it.
The poll also found that an overwhelming majority agreed with Mr. Bush that the voters, not the courts of legislature, should define what marriage is.