In a White House speech last week, President Bush came out strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment to limit marriage in the United States to the union of one man and one woman.
The long-awaited initiative was applauded by conservative leaders, while Republican congressional sources predicted the President will have to fight harder than he did even for his hard-won prescription drug package if he wants to secure the two-thirds majorities needed to approve an amendment.
“President Bush’s endorsement of a federal marriage amendment today is the linchpin in efforts to protect marriage in our country,” said Dr. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family. “The President clearly understands that families formed through the union of one man and one woman are best for America and America’s children.”
Because Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.), the likely Democratic presidential candidate, opposes an amendment, the question is certain to be a major campaign issue. Republicans believe it could kill any chances Kerry has in the South while dividing him from socially conservative Democrats in the Midwestern swing states that Al Gore narrowly won in 2000–including Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There was, however, one key Republican defector. House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R.-Calif.) was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “I believe that this should go through the courts, and I think that we’re at the point where it’s not necessary.”
Ordinarily, a bill is not scheduled for a House vote until Dreier’s committee has approved the rule governing how it will be debated.
Bush cited activist judges and (without actually naming him) Democratic Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, who two weeks ago started authorizing same-sex marriages in that city, for forcing the issue. “After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience,” said Bush, “a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization. Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity.”
“Activist courts have left the people with no recourse,” said the President. “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.”
The President did not propose specific amendment language. Nor did he expressly endorse the amendment sponsored by Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R.-Colo.). He did endorse leaving it to the states to decide whether to legalize gay civil unions. “The amendment should fully protect marriage,” he said, “while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.”
Concerned Women for America argued that an amendment crafted this way would allow federal judges to force all states to legalize civil unions. “Any state law, including a state constitutional amendment, can be trumped by a federal equal protections ruling by an activist judge,” said CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.), whose authority supersedes Dreier’s in controlling which bills come up for House votes, opposes both gay marriage and gay civil unions. But he isn’t yet certain a constitutional amendment is needed. If one is, said a DeLay spokesman, “He’s for the strongest possible language that we can build a consensus around.”