Bush speech stirs marriage debate among Republicans
January 23 2004 1:00 AM ET
President Bush's seemingly open-ended comments during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday regarding the need for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage has Republicans debating the meaning of what the president said. According to a report in The New York Times, some conservative religious groups are celebrating what they see as a presidential endorsement of an amendment, while other far-right groups, including the notoriously antigay Family Research Council, said the president has failed to act fast enough on the issue. At the other end of the spectrum, the gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans warned the president that engaging in a culture war over same-sex marriage is a recipe for defeat. "George W. Bush was elected in 2000 by bringing Americans together," said Log Cabin executive director Patrick Guerriero. "State of the Union addresses should be used to unite all Americans around the nation's highest priorities. Americans are threatened by terrorism and uncertainty, not gay and lesbian families."
In a statement issued in response to the Times, which said Log Cabin could "no longer support the president because of the speech," the group said it had "not decided to endorse or not endorse President Bush in 2004. Log Cabin has a clear process for all endorsements, and we will follow that process. The decision will be made only after consultation with our grassroots members across America. The Log Cabin National Board will make any endorsement decision later this year consistent with the time line and process of past elections."
Meanwhile, the gay-straight Republican Unity Coalition said it is sticking by the White House, arguing that President Bush has not yet explicitly called for an amendment. Indeed, the ambiguous nature of Bush's comments on the amendment were seemingly intended to rally conservative voters without spooking too many moderates, who might find the idea of changing the Constitution over gay unions intolerant or an overreaction, the Times said. But the contradictory interpretations of his words also underscore the delicacy of the balancing act Bush faces in carrying this issue through the election year. And two leaders of the gay-positive Republican groups said they believe Bush's careful approach to the question of an amendment also stems from his own personal reluctance to stigmatize gays.
Bush never used the words "gay," "homosexual," "same-sex," or "amendment." Instead of an amendment, he referred only to a "constitutional process." And, as he has in the past, he qualified the present need for such a process. "If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people," Bush said, "the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process." Some conservatives found fault with his reluctance. "He made the case for the necessity of an amendment, and I am puzzled as to why he did not, having diagnosed the problem, prescribe the only remedy, a federal marriage amendment," Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Times. "I know that millions of social conservatives join me in praying that he does in the very near future." Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Bush's failure to ask Congress to get to work on an amendment negated his other initiatives. "If we throw out 6,000 years of human history that says marriage is between a man and a woman, then the rest of that doesn't matter," Perkins said. Congress needs to act within a few weeks, he said, so that the debate over an amendment could begin before the next election and before "you have same-sex marriages sprinkled all over the country."
Some gay Republicans said the president went too far. "We will not stand with anyone who is willing to write discrimination into the Constitution," Guerriero told the Times. But Charles Francis, chairman of the Republican Unity Coalition and a family friend of Bush's, said he is not yet ready to break ranks. He emphasized that the president did not mention an amendment and that his comments about the "constitutional process" remained conditional, although he acknowledged, "He has come about as close as he can get."