President Bush criticized Tuesday's ruling by Massachusetts's highest court striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage and said he would work with Congress to "defend the sanctity" of marriage. "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman," Bush said in a statement released shortly after he arrived in London for a state visit. He said the ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court "violates this important principle." In Washington, congressional Republicans renewed calls for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.
Bush has said in the past that he supports strengthening the federal definition of marriage as a solely man-woman union. But he has declined to endorse a U.S. constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and his statement Tuesday gave no specifics of how he believes that stronger definition should be accomplished. "I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage," he said.
It is unlikely that Congress will be able to act on any legislation this year. Congressional leaders have said they want to recess for the year by Thanksgiving, and House Judiciary chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is unlikely to hold hearings on the proposed constitutional amendment or
other gay marriage legislation this year.
Courts in Hawaii and Alaska also ruled that states do not have a right to deny marriage to gay couples. In those two states, those decisions were followed by the adoption of state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. The Hawaii case led Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to ignore same-sex unions allowed elsewhere.
Republicans want to be sure that federal courts don't come to the same conclusions that state courts have. "When you have a runaway judiciary, as we obviously have, that has no consideration for the Constitution of the United States, then we have available to us through that Constitution [a way] to fix the judiciary," said House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) called the Massachusetts decision "just one more assault on the Judeo-Christian values of our nation."
The idea of a U.S. constitutional amendment appeared to be gaining support from some Republicans, and Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) would not rule it out. "I think when we last publicly were discussing this, we made it very clear that it is our obligation, it is the law of the land passed by this body, and if the courts begin to tear that down, we have a responsibility to address it," he said.
But Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said the 1996 law should be enough. "I'm sure that there are some who may want to make political hay," he said. "But I believe that the issue is as clear as can be."