Bush speech states goal of banning equal marriage rights
January 22 2004 1:00 AM ET
President George W. Bush never mentioned Massachusetts by name in his State of the Union address, but he had a pointed message for the state's high court and for gay and lesbian Americans who dare ask for equal rights under marriage laws: If jurists threaten to expand the definition of marriage beyond what the president believes it to be, Bush warned, they could trigger a fight to pass a constitutional amendment to impose on all states and citizens the views of the president and what he sees as the views of a majority of Americans.
His remarks were a direct response to the Massachusetts supreme judicial court's ruling in November that the state's constitution mandates equal rights for all citizens, including equal access to marriage. That ruling declared the restriction of marriage rights to opposite-sex couples to be unconstitutional in Massachusetts and gave the state 180 days to implement equality under its marriage laws.
In his address, Bush said that America must value the institution of marriage as traditionally restricted to one man and one woman. And he said he would support a constitutional amendment to limit the rights of same-sex couples. "Activist judges...have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives," said Bush. "If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process."
Polls in Massachusetts have found that the will of that state's people to be largely supportive of the judges' ruling, but a federal constitutional amendment would overrule that support. The antigay amendment currently before both houses of Congress would limit marriage to one man and one woman and includes an additional clause that legal experts say is intended to strike down all same-sex civil unions, domestic-partnership laws, and perhaps even government-supported equal employee benefits, nationwide. The amendment would invalidate many laws already passed by the elected representatives of dozens of states and local governments.
"In more than 200 years of American history, the Constitution has never [been] amended to deny basic rights and responsibilities [to one group of citizens]," Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, told the Los Angeles Times. "We would remind the president that the courts have long played a key role in helping to ensure that all Americans enjoy equality under the law."
Additional reaction from gay activists and advocates of equal marriage rights is expected Wednesday.
Bush's antigay declaration during the State of the Union address--a topic that far-right groups pressured the Administration to include--triggered a sharply divided reaction in the congressional chamber. Even some Republicans have expressed concern over Bush's intrusion into state issues. It also further clouded the Massachusetts legislature's consideration later this year of two responses to the court ruling: a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman--which could not be passed before the court-mandated 180 days ends--and a civil unions bill giving gay couples the benefits, but not the title, of marriage.
"I believe in the sanctity of marriage, and that should include any two people who are committed to each other regardless of the gender of the couple," said Jamaica Plain, Mass., resident Perry Norton, whose daughter Heidi was a plaintiff in the Massachusetts case. Heidi Norton and Gina Smith, who live in Northampton, have two sons.
"They are people who actually add value and dignity to the institution of marriage and promote the same family values that the rest of us do in this society," said Norton.
U.S. representative Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) said Bush was overstepping his bounds. "When it comes to some of the social issues, like marriage or birth control, those are best left to the states," he said.