On December 16 Pres. George W. Bush said, “If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman.”
The Federal Marriage Amendment, which legislators have introduced in both houses of Congress, would mark the first time the Constitution has been amended to deny civil rights to a class of Americans.
Bush was responding to a question from Diane Sawyer of ABC News about the November Massachusetts court decision that ordered marriage rights for same-sex couples. Bush said that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court “overreached its bounds” and “did the job of the legislature.”
The president also said, “The position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they’re allowed to make, so long as it’s embraced by the state or at the state level.”
Bush’s embrace of the proposed amendment outraged gay rights groups across the country and brought fire from Democratic presidential contenders, all of whom oppose amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and support, at the very least, some form of civil union or domestic partnership recognition for same-sex couples.
Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) was the first presidential hopeful to issue a statement responding to Bush.
“It is time for Pres. Bush to end his alliance with bigotry once and for all and speak out against the Republican Party’s hostile election year attempt to polarize the election ,” Gephardt said. “I strongly oppose this effort as purely political and unnecessarily divisive at the expense of those who already suffer from discrimination
A day before the Bush interview, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) called same-sex marriage a fundamental human rights issue and told a San Francisco audience, “I can’t for the life of me understand why I’m the only one who’s taking this position with such emphasis.”
Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton are the only Democratic hopefuls who support opening marriage to gay couples.
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay lobbying group, said the group is “gravely concerned” about the president’s “attacks on American families” and proclaimed, “It is never necessary to insert prejudice and discrimination into the U.S. Constitution.”
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called upon its members to call the White House at 202 456 1111 immediately “expressing your opposition to the Bush administration bringing forth and supporting the blatantly discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment,” which it said “represents the divisive and discriminatory politics of the past.”
New York marriage activist Brendan Fay of the Civil Marriage Trail, a project to help same-sex couples marry in Canada as he and his partner Tom Moulton did, said, “What the president has done is to dishonor the institution of marriage which has evolved over history to be more inclusive and equal and he dishonors the Constitution which is the basis of equality and protecting people’s rights. It ought to be a wake-up call for our community to be clear, focused and dedicated in the pursuit of equal marriage rights through the next presidential election.”
The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group, opened its statement on an upbeat note, stating that they “agree with President Bush that marriage issues should be governed by the states,” but also emphasized the dangers it saw in his statement.
“We are concerned that the president said that he might support amending the United States Constitution,” said Patrick Guerriero, director of the group.
In the 2000 presidential election, Log Cabin endorsed Bush, but will be hard-pressed to do so again in 2004 if he supports an amendment the group has denounced for aiming to “codify discrimination.”
Bush’s statement apparently did not satisfy anti-gay right wing groups either. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “While I’m encouraged Pres. Bush supports a constitutional amendment honoring marriage between a man and a woman, I’m very concerned about his additional comments which seem to suggest the definition of marriage, which pre-dates western civilization and the United States Constitution, can be redefined at the state level.”
Bush’s somewhat contradictory message may take into account the public posture of his vice president, Dick Cheney, who in his 2000 debate against Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut senator now seeking the presidency, said, “I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.”
Perkins’ organization is a part of an ad hoc coalition known as the Arlington Group that aims to amend the Constitution not only to ban same-sex marriage, but also to roll back gains on domestic partnership nationwide.
“This sounds as though the administration would support civil unions which are counterfeits of the institution of marriage,” said Perkins. He also accused Bush of “undermining state legislators” in Massachusetts and elsewhere who are working on state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage.
The Federal Marriage Amendment was drafted by a less radical group known as the Alliance for Marriage. Divisions have broken out within the Alliance over the membership of the Islamist Society of North America. Rabbi Marc Gellman, a frequent media commentator, resigned from the Alliance citing a Jewish World Review report that the Islamic group is “a reputed terrorist-friendly Muslim” association. Other Alliance members insist the group is “mainstream” and not on the State Department’s list of terrorist front groups. But Steve Emerson, a “terrorist expert” according to the Review, said, “If you look at ISNA’s involvement with terrorist groups, its hosting of actual terrorist leaders, and its ideological support for Islamist terrorist groups, you will find that it serves as an umbrella group for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Several conservative religious leaders refused to resign from the anti-gay alliance, including Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel, the Georgetown synagogue where Sen. Lieberman (D-Conn.) worships, and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, the Clinton administration’s ambassador to the Vatican.
In Massachusetts, the state legislature has formally asked for an advisory opinion from the Supreme Judicial Court of whether a Vermont-style civil union arrangement, letting same-sex couples marry in all but name, would satisfy the court. The court has asked other interested parties to weigh in on that issue.
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the initial Goodridge v. Massachusetts case, has said that civil unions would not be an acceptable alternative to full marriage rights. But Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard, a supporter of same-sex marriage, told the Boston Herald said that if the court went for the civil union compromise, “it wouldn’t shock me. It would disappoint me in terms of the question of whether the court has the courage of its convictions, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a court has injected a dose of political realism into its determinations.”