Conservatives pressure White House to support antigay amendment
January 17 2004 12:00 AM ET
Putting an emphasis squarely on discrimination against gay people rather than on their own professed "pro-marriage" agenda, far-right conservatives are calling on President Bush to condemn same-sex marriage in next week's State of the Union address, reports The New York Times. The unprecedented $1.5 billion initiative Bush proposed this week to promote heterosexual marriage was dismissed by some antigay leaders as not as important as banning equal marriage rights for gays.
One antigay activist, in calling upon the president to lead the fight to outlaw any and all legal recognition of same-sex relationships nationwide, equated gay unions with the evils of slavery.
Bush's costly marriage initiative "is like lobbing a snowball at a forest fire," Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, told the Times. "This administration is dancing dangerously around the issue of homosexual marriage." Concerned Women of America supports banning not only same-sex marriage but also any state or local recognition of same-sex relationships, such as civil unions and domestic-partner benefits--no matter what a state's voters or legislature may choose to enact.
The constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage now pending in both houses of Congress would effectively do just that. It would not only deny gay and lesbian Americans equal marriage rights but also decree that "the legal incidents" of marriage could not be "conferred upon unmarried couples"--wording legal experts say is intended to prohibit Vermont-like civil unions as well as any lesser legal recognition of domestic partnerships, such as employment or health benefits for same-sex partners.
President Bush has now twice said publicly that he believes marriage should be limited to "a man and a woman," and he said in a recent television interview that he would support the antigay constitutional amendment "if necessary" to codify that discriminatory definition. But Bush also said in that interview 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," an apparent contradiction of his support for the antigay amendment that would limit states' freedom.
It's that inconsistency that has antigay activists up in arms. Saying that states can determine their own standards for recognizing legal relationships "is the same as saying the federal government doesn't want to weigh in on slavery," CWA's Rios told the Times, "but if the states want to call it chattel, that is OK."
Longtime antigay activist Gary L. Bauer, president of a far-right group called American Values, told the Times that gay marriage is a make-or-break issue for many conservatives--essentially threatening that core Republican voters would sit out the election if Bush doesn't explicitly back their antigay agenda. "If the White House puts [opposition to same-sex marriage] on the back burner or doesn't put political capital into it," he said, "that would deeply demoralize a large bloc of voters that they are expecting to turn out in November."
The Times reported that "several conservative Christians involved in the push for an [antigay] amendment said they saw the State of the Union speech...as a pivotal test." Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the newspaper, "Time is running out, but the clock is still ticking." Presidential advisers have said they don't expect Bush to push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his State of the Union address.
If gay activists were expecting any kind of support in this fight from Vice President Dick Cheney, whose openly lesbian daughter Mary is now director of vice presidential operations for Bush's reelection campaign, their hopes may have been dashed this week.
Cheney told Colorado newspapers that he would support a constitutional amendment to deny same-sex couples access to equal marriage rights if that's what Bush thought was necessary. Mary Cheney, who is in a long-term relationship with another woman, has so far declined to comment on her father's expression of unwavering support for limiting her rights.
The vice president's apparent willingness to back the amendment appears to be a flip-flop from his previous position on legal rights for same-sex couples. During the 2000 campaign Cheney said that individual states should have the power to determine what relationships they recognize and how. "It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard," he said.
All eight of the Bush-Cheney ticket's major Democratic opponents for the presidency oppose any constitutional amendment to strip rights from gay and lesbian Americans, although only candidates Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton support full access to marriage rights.