President Bush said Wednesday that he has government lawyers working on a law that would define marriage as a union between a woman and a man, casting aside calls to legalize gay marriage. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other, and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that," the president said at a wide-ranging news conference in the White House Rose Garden.
Bush also urged, however, that America remain a "welcoming country"--not polarized on the issue of homosexuality. "I am mindful that we're all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take a speck out of the neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own," the president said. "I think it is important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts. On the other hand, that does not mean that someone like me needs to compromise on the issue of marriage."
The president's comments drew a strong reaction from gay activists in Washington. "President Bush has a responsibility to address the crises of inequality facing millions of American families that are denied the most basic rights," said Dave Noble, executive director of the gay political group National Stonewall Democrats. "Rather than call us 'sinners' to appease his religious extremist base, he should be working to protect all families. That's what a real compassionate conservative would do."
And Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the D.C.-based gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said, "We are very disappointed that the president is trying to further codify discrimination into law. The deeply discriminatory 1996 Defense of Marriage Act already denies gay and lesbian Americans basic rights like the ability to take time off work to care for a sick partner. We ask the president to explain to the American people why DOMA does not already meet the objective he set this morning."
Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York City-based group Freedom to Marry, added, "It is shocking, if not surprising, that the White House would talk of legislation aimed at undermining a group of American families, rather than working on ways to strengthen communities by supporting all families. Tellingly, the White House gave no good reason for this attack, no reason for trying to deny lesbian and gay Americans the responsibilities, protections, and support that civil marriage would bring to our families, and no reason why the federal government should be interfering in any American's access to civil marriage licenses from their own states."
Bush has long opposed same-sex marriage but as recently as earlier this month had said that a constitutional ban on gay marriage proposed in the House might not be needed despite a Supreme Court decision that some conservatives think opens the door to legalizing same-sex marriage. In last month's Lawrence v. Texas ruling, the Supreme Court struck down Texas's same-sex sodomy law, in effect overturning all state laws that outlawed same-sex sexual relations.
Conservative justice Antonin Scalia fired off a blistering dissent of the ruling. The "opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned," Scalia wrote. The ruling specifically said that the court was not addressing that issue, but Scalia warned, "Do not believe it."
Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado is the main sponsor of the proposal, offered May 21 in the U.S. House, to amend the Constitution. On June 25 it was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. In order for the Constitution to be amended, the proposal must be approved by two thirds of the House and the Senate and ratified by three fourths of the states.