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Spokesman doesn’t quell reports Bush will back amendment

WASHINGTON (BP)–White House spokesman Scott McClellan Feb. 11 did not deny reports that President Bush has decided to support a constitutional marriage amendment, but McClellan did signal which version of an amendment Bush eventually could back.

The comments came as The Washington Post quoted “key advisers” as saying that Bush has decided to endorse a marriage amendment. Other media outlets, including Baptist Press, days earlier quoted pro-family leaders as saying they had been promised that Bush would support an amendment.

The amendment would add language to the U.S. Constitution protecting the traditional definition of marriage and banning same-sex “marriage.”

McClellan was asked if Bush “has decided yet what he is going to do on this.”

McClellan responded: “What I am saying is that we continue to look very closely at it, yes.”

He was then asked, “But [Bush] has made no decision about the need for a constitutional amendment, whether he should intervene. …?”

“What he has said,” McClellan answered, “is that if necessary he will do what is legally needed to protect the sanctity of marriage.”

Finally, McClellan was asked if reports were true that presidential adviser Karl Rove had promised Bush’s support for an amendment to pro-family leaders.

“I think that the White House has said what the president has said, which is that if necessary he would be prepared to support a constitutional amendment that would protect the sanctify of marriage,” McClellan said.

McClellan did say that the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., is the one that Bush likes.

“He has indicated that legislation by Congresswoman Musgrave reflects the principles that he could support,” McClellan said.

That is significant because some pro-family groups, such as Concerned Women for America, have proposed an alternative amendment, the Institution of Marriage Amendment. It would explicitly ban Vermont-type civil unions, while backers of the Federal Marriage Amendment say that the issue of civil unions would be left up to the states.

Other pro-family leaders say that while a stronger amendment would be desirable, it would be politically unfeasible.

The Institution of Marriage Amendment has yet to be introduced in Congress; the Federal Marriage Amendment has been introduced and has 112 supporters in the House and seven in the Senate. Four Representatives and one Senator, Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia, added their sponsorship to the amendment Feb. 9 and 10.

“The president believes very strongly that everybody should be treated with dignity and respect, and I think his record reflects that,” McClellan said. “But this is about an enduring institution in America, and in order to have a strong America we should work to make sure that institution continues to endure.”

Bush believes that civil unions are a state matter, McClellan said, adding that while governor of Texas Bush opposed them.

“The president has previously said that states certainly have the right to … legal contractual arrangements on issues such as visitations, insurance benefits. But this issue is about the sanctity of marriage.”

McClellan also said the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that same-sex “marriage” is required under the state constitution is not the only area of concern.

“That’s one area obviously that we’re looking at closely,” he said. “There are other court decisions that have been out there. But we will continue to look at this issue in terms of the nation.”

McClellan refused to answer a question about the contrast the presidential campaign would face if Bush backs an amendment. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry opposes a federal amendment and in 1996 was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act — which was signed by President Clinton and gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriages.” Eighty-five senators voted for it.

“This is a view that the president has always held,” McClellan said. “That is the view that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. He believes very strongly that we should protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. It’s an issue of principle in his view. The president makes decisions and takes stands on principle and based on a clear philosophy. He does what he says he’s going to do. He’s always said that he will work to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage.”

He paraphrased Bush’s State of the Union address and criticized “activist courts” who are seeking to “redefine” marriage.

“I think that the American people support the president’s view that marriage is a sacred institution and [that] we should work to protect it,” McClellan said.
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  • Michael Foust