President Bush is urging Congress and the states to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

While not endorsing any particular amendment being proposed, Bush said the move is needed to counter “activist judges and local officials” seeking to redefine marriage. He cited plans by Massachusetts Supreme Court judges to issue marriage licenses to gays and decisions by city officials in San Francisco to issue thousands of marriages licenses to same-sex couples.

Such actions could have serious consequences elsewhere, Bush said, because the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause requires all the states to honor public records and proceedings recognized in another state.

“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 said Wednesday in a televised address from the White House.

Religious conservatives backing a marriage-protection amendment hailed Bush’s announcement.

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he was “delighted and pleased, but not surprised” by Bush’s support for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

“[Bush] has made it clear that he believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman and he has now properly concluded that we have ‘reached the last resort,’ where the only way that the people can make their voice heard on this issue is to avail themselves of the mechanism provided by the Founding Fathers, namely amending the Constitution of the United States,” Land said in a statement quoted by Baptist Press.

Soulforce, a religious gay-rights organization, meanwhile, said amending the Constitution would turn gays into second-class citizens.

“This amendment is not about ‘protecting marriage,'” said Soulforce founder Mel White in a statement. “It is an attempt by the president and fundamentalist Christians to deny permanently the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, unmarried couples and their families, and rob them of the more than 1,000 rights and protections that can be obtained through civil marriage.”

Bush said marriage “cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.” By “recognizing and protecting marriage,” he said, government “serves the interests of all.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, a major gay Republican group, accused the president of pandering to the religious right and jeopardizing an estimated 1 million gay votes that he received in the 2000 election.

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush has always believed that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and woman. “This is a principled decision,” McClellan said, according to Reuters.

Rumors have been circulating for weeks that Bush was about to come out in favor of a marriage amendment. Bush hinted at support for an amendment in his State of the Union address, but did not call for it directly.

“If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process,” he said Jan. 20. “Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”

That language prompted criticism from some in the religious right disappointed at Bush’s apparent reluctance to support a marriage amendment.

“The families of America have consistently supported the president on both his foreign and domestic policies,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said after the State of the Union address. “They have stood with him in his efforts of homeland security and now they want the president to focus on the security of the American home by protecting the institution of marriage.”

Yesterday Perkins said in a statement the president is now “right on target” and that he looks forward to “working alongside the president to see this amendment swiftly move through both houses of Congress.”

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said: “Two bad ideas do not equal a good one. Gay marriage is a bad idea; a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage is a bad idea.”

“On one hand, the president is pandering to the religious right and diverting attention away from his credibility problems,” Parham said. “On the other hand, the religious right is expressing its hatred of gays with a political wedge issue. Their proposed solution does nothing to redress America’s culture of divorce, which is the real threat to marriage and the nation’s children.”

Bush said any amendment to the Constitution “should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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