A new Bush administration election-year plan designed for straight couples only would provide at least $1.5 billion for training to help them develop interpersonal skills to sustain "healthy marriages," The New York Times reported Wednesday. Officials are weighing whether the president should promote the plan next week in his State of the Union address.
The move comes as the Administration faces pressure from conservatives eager to see the federal government defend traditional marriage in light of Massachusetts's highest court ruling that gay couples have a right to marry under the state's constitution. "This is a way for the president to address the concerns of conservatives and to solidify his conservative base," a presidential adviser told the Times.
Under the president's proposal, federal money could be used for specific activities like advertising campaigns to publicize the value of marriage, instruction in marriage skills, and mentoring programs that use married couples as role models.
Federal money for marriage promotion is available only to heterosexual couples. The Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage for any program established by Congress. The law states, "The word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
"It is ironic that this government wants to spend tax dollars to 'promote marriage' while spending other tax dollars to block same-sex couples who want to marry," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, which promotes equal marriage rights. "We're all for healthy marriages. Healthy marriages begin with choice, personal commitment, and two people working together through life's ups and downs, not government interference."
Several conservative Christian advocacy groups are pressing Bush to use the State of the Union address to champion a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Leaders of these groups said they are confused by what they see as the Administration's hedging and hesitation concerning an amendment, the Times reported.
In an interview with ABC News last month, Bush was asked if he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay civil unions. "If necessary," he said, "I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that, and will--the position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long as it's embraced by the state or does start at the state level."
Asked to cite the circumstances in which a constitutional amendment might be needed, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Tuesday, "That is a decision the president has to make in due time."