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President Bush backs marriage amendment, says ‘activist’ judges, officials warrant action

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush announced his support for a constitutional marriage amendment Feb. 24, saying that “activist” judges and local officials threaten to change the “most fundamental institution of civilization.”

In making his announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Bush backed a version of an amendment that would protect the traditional definition of marriage by banning same-sex “marriage” but leave the issue of civil unions and domestic partnerships up to the states.

“An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly,” Bush said. “The amendment process has addressed many serious matters of national concern. And the preservation of marriage rises to this level of national importance.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment, which has been introduced in Congress, “meets some of the principles” that Bush supports.

“We will be working with [congressional leaders] on specific language for an amendment,” McClellan said.

The Federal Marriage Amendment has 113 supporters in the House and nine in the Senate, and has received the support of several pro-family organizations, including Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Family Research Council.

“Today I call upon the Congress,” Bush said, “to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as the union of a man and woman as husband and wife,” Bush said. “The amendment should fully protect marriage while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.”

Democrats criticized the announcement. Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry said the amendment is a “wedge issue” and that he will vote against it if it reaches the Senate floor. Adding that he’s against same-sex “marriage” but for civil unions, Kerry said that Bush is trying to divert attention from other issues.

In recent months social conservatives have been split on which version of an amendment to support. Some say that an amendment should ban civil unions, while others say that such an amendment, while desirable, is politically unfeasible. McClellan said that Bush “has made it very clear” that he opposed civil unions as governor of Texas.

An amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states. Polls show that Americans oppose same-sex “marriage” by a 2-to-1 margin.

The president pointed to the landmark Massachusetts court decision, as well as actions by San Francisco city officials, as reasons he is supporting an amendment.

“Unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials — all of which adds to uncertainty,” he said. “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. 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. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse. 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. Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.”

Bush said the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 and signed by President Clinton, is in danger of being overturned by courts. The act defines in federal law the definition of marriage and gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriage.”

But Bush said courts could overturn the act by saying it conflicts with the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause, which says that “full faith and credit” must be given in each state to the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” of every other state.

“Those who want to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex marriage performed anywhere in America,” Bush said. “Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act, by declaring that no state must accept another state’s definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress. Yet, there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not itself be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage.”

Pointing to the political support for the Defense of Marriage Act, Bush said the majority of people support the traditional definition of marriage. The act passed the House of Representatives 342-67 and the Senate 85-14 (Kerry was one of those Senators voting against it). In addition, 38 states have enacted their own “mini” defense of marriage acts.

“The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith,” the president said. “Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.”

Bush called on the nation to conduct a civil debate on the issue in the coming months.

“America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens,” he said. “This commitment to freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country — without bitterness or anger. In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency.”

Several pro-family leaders issued statements praising Bush’s announcement.

“He has made it clear that he believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman and he has now properly concluded that we have ‘reached the last resort’ in preserving the sanctity of marriage,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said. “The only way the American people can make their voice heard on this issue is to avail themselves of the mechanism provided by the Founding Fathers, namely amending the United States Constitution.”

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called Bush’s announcement “the lynchpin” in efforts to protect marriage.

“The president clearly understands that families formed through the union of one man and one woman are best for America and America’s children,” Dobson said. “His comments should signal to Congress and the states that only an amendment to the U.S. Constitution can adequately address the inevitable showdown between the courts and the will of the American people as expressed through their elected representatives.”

Alliance Defense Fund President Alan E. Sears agreed.

“Recent events in Massachusetts and California have only contributed to the tidal wave of opposition to same-sex ‘marriage,’” Sears said. “In Massachusetts we have judges acting like legislators and in California we have a mayor acting like a judge, both usurping the will of the people. The president signaled an important step to returning decision-making power to the voters.”

Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver said the “courts are not the place” where the issue should be decided.

“Marriage is the most important social and cultural issue of the century, and this issue should be for the people to decide, not the courts,” he said.

The debate in the coming months figures to cover everything from religion to politics. One reporter asked McClellan “where in the Bible” the issue of marriage was addressed.

“We want to know where the foundation of faith is on this issue,” she said. “Is it Sodom and Gomorrah? Is it some other part of the Bible?”

McClellan answered: “You can consult religious scholars if you want to know these issues.”
For more information on the debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit BP’s story collection at:

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