In a move likely to anger his conservative base, President Bush said in a Sunday front-page story in the Washington Post that he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Bush said there is no reason to press for the amendment, because so many senators believe the Defense of Marriage Act is adequate. The law, signed by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as between a man and a woman and says that no state is required to honor a same-sex marriage approved by another state.
Bush told the newspaper that senators will not support a constitutional amendment unless DOMA is ruled unconstitutional.
“Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen,” Bush said. “I’d take their admonition seriously…. Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate.”
Many observers regard Bush’s support for such an amendment a linchpin in his appeal to religiously conservative voters, who turned out in large numbers to help him win re-election. Exit polls in the November election showed large numbers of Bush voters rated “moral issues” as their No. 1 issue.
In remarks via satellite to the Southern Baptist Convention last June, Bush said: “My administration is defending the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage forever. The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. And government, by strengthening and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. So I am calling for funding for healthy marriage programs, and I support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”
The White House insisted the president has not changed his position.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said on CNN’s “Late Edition,” that Bush believes an amendment is needed but “legislative realities” work against passage.
“It requires 67 votes in the United States Senate for a constitutional amendment to move forward,” Bartlett said. “That’s a very high bar,”
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the Washington Post to say the president wished to clarify his position. He said Bush was “willing to spend political capital” but believes it will be virtually impossible to overcome Senate resistance until the courts render a verdict on DOMA.
Bush’s comments came just days after Democrats called on him to stop pushing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. On Friday the Democratic National Committee circulated a petition urging Bush to “tell Republicans in Washington to stop discriminating against millions of American families.”
One leader in the religious right said the president owed it to “values voters” to keep his promise to oppose gay marriage.
“The president has a mandate to protect marriage, therefore he, not member of the Senate, must lead the effort to protect the institution of marriage,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.