In a television interview aired Tuesday, President Bush said he wouldn't oppose states that establish civil unions for same-sex couples even though the Republican Party platform is explicitly opposed to any such arrangements. Bush also said he still supports banning same-sex marriage nationwide, regardless of state laws, through a federal constitutional amendment. "I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do so," Bush said on ABC's Good Morning America. "I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. I strongly believe that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman."
One version of the federal constitutional amendment proposed in Congress this year included wording that legal experts said would have kept states from establishing civil unions. Bush has never wavered from his support of the proposed amendment, through its many incarnations, and never spoke out against the wording that would have outlawed civil unions. His last-minute support for states' rights in the realm of civil unions may come as a shock to the millions of conservative Christians on whom Bush strategist Karl Rove is depending for the president's reelection.
Asked to comment on his party's opposition to civil unions—a plank vital to the party's conservative Christian members—Bush said during the ABC interview that he disagreed with that position. The platform was adopted during the Republican National Convention in New York last month, when Bush officially received the party's nomination for the November 2 presidential election.
Bush's opponent, Democrat John Kerry, opposes the federal constitutional amendment. While he opposes allowing same-sex couples to marry and has voiced support for rolling back equal marriage rights in his native Massachusetts, he has consistently supported marriage-like rights for gay and lesbian couples in the form of civil unions.
Dave Noble, executive director for the gay political group Stonewall Democrats, took issue with Bush's remarks. "Suave words cannot smooth a wrinkled record," he said. "President Bush has used the weight of his presidency to advocate for the discrimination of same-sex couples. George W. Bush can try to mislead the American public once again, but this whole act is becoming a little desperate. While the Bush campaign touts anti-partnership initiatives in battleground states, the Bush administration continues to oppose equal benefits for the same-sex spouses of federal employees."
Noble pointed out that shortly after his Good Morning America appearance, the president appeared at three rallies in Wisconsin warning of the threat posed by terrorists and same-sex marriage.
CNN reported on Monday that the Bush campaign is using Spanish-language literature in Florida to tout its opposition to equal rights for gay people. In Ohio, where Noble claims the campaign told party officials to push an anti-gay marriage initiative as part of their election efforts, top Republican officials have abandoned the measure because it could outlaw partnership rights granted by private companies. Federally, Noble said, the Bush administration has refused to enforce a provision that would allow same-sex partners of federal employees to buy into long-term care insurance at their own expense. The Administration has also worked to block congressional efforts to provide equal benefits and health insurance to same-sex partners of federal employees.