NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–President Bush said Dec. 16 that the nation might need a constitutional amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
His comments in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “Primetime” were the closest he has come to embracing the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. In July Bush said that government lawyers were studying the “best way” to protect the definition of marriage.
“If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman [and would] codify that,” he told Sawyer.
Although the executive branch plays no direct role in passing an amendment, many observers believe Bush’s support is critical if the amendment is to make progress. It requires passage of two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states.
Bush was critical of the Nov. 18 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalizing same-sex “marriage.” The court stayed its decision and gave the Massachusetts legislature 180 days to take action.
“Let me tell you, the court I thought overreached its bounds as a court,” the president said. “It did the job of the legislature. It was a very activist court in making the decision it made. As you know, I’m a person who believes in judicial restraint, as opposed to judicial activism that takes the place of the legislative branch.”
But Bush’s comments on the issue of Vermont-type civil unions won’t satisfy all social conservatives. Although he wasn’t asked a direct question, he seemed to imply that the issue should be left up to the states.
The Federal Marriage Amendment, which was been introduced in the House and Senate, would bar courts from legalizing civil unions but would leave room for state legislatures to do so. Civil unions give same-sex couples many of the legal benefits of marriage.
“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,” Bush said.
Later in the interview Sawyer said, “In the 2000 election, you said pretty much it was a state issue.”
Bush replied: “That’s right. Except [and] unless judicial rulings undermine the sanctity of marriage. In which case, we may need a [constitutional] amendment.”
Sawyer also asked Bush if he believes homosexuals are sinners.
“We’re all sinners,” Bush said. “We’re all sinners, and that’s important for–”
“No distinction?” Sawyer asked.
“I think we’re all sinners,” Bush continued. “One of my favorite Bible verses, it says, ‘Why would I take a speck out of your eye when I have a log in my own?’ And having said that, however, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage. But tolerance and belief in marriage aren’t mutually exclusive points of view.”
In comments not broadcast but included in an ABCNews.com transcript, the president said the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996, might be in danger. The law gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriages.” Conservatives fear that a federal court eventually will rule it unconstitutional.
“It may be undermined at this point,” he said. “I also think it’s very important, on this subject, that the country be tolerant of people and understand people….”
Conservative leaders are split on the language of a constitutional amendment. Some want to see a strong push for an amendment that also would ban civil unions; others say that while such an approach is noble, it would lead to certain defeat.
Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, praised Bush’s comments. The Alliance for Marriage drafted the current amendment.
“We are grateful to President Bush for saying that he may support a marriage amendment in response to the constitutional challenges to all state and federal marriage laws that are expected to follow from the recent Massachusetts court decision,” Daniels said in a statement.
Every Democrat presidential candidate opposes a marriage amendment. Richard A. Gephardt, former House minority leader and a presidential candidate, released a statement saying Bush’s comments are in “direct contrast with the views of tolerance and equality that reflect the values of the American people.”
“It is time for President 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.”
Three polls released this year showed that support for a constitutional amendment is anywhere from 54-58 percent. An Associated Press poll had support at 54 percent, while a FOX News poll had it at 58 percent. The polls were taken before the Massachusetts court ruling.
A separate FOX News poll taken after the ruling showed voters opposing same-sex “marriage” by a margin of 66-25 percent.