President Bush is awaiting the outcomes of two state court cases that could legalize gay marriage as he considers steps to strengthen the federal definition of marriage as a man-woman union. Meanwhile, the top Senate Democrat said Thursday that existing law already limits legal recognition to heterosexual couples. "No changes necessary, in my view. You've got it in law today," said Sen. Tom Daschle.
In 1996 President Clinton signed the congressionally enacted Defense of Marriage Act, Daschle noted, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to ignore same-sex unions licensed elsewhere. Reading from the federal code, Daschle told a news conference, "The word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
"You can't get any clearer than that," Daschle said, adding that he supports the current law.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House is monitoring a pair of state court cases on the issue. The Massachusetts supreme judicial court is weighing whether to legalize same-sex unions and could rule any day, and a superior court judge in New Jersey is considering a similar case.
"We are looking at what may be needed in the context of the court cases that are pending now," McClellan told reporters Thursday. But he declined to say whether Bush favors a constitutional amendment that the House is considering that would simply ban gay marriage.
Bush said at a news conference Wednesday, "I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other." McClellan would not elaborate on what "codify" means or why the Defense of Marriage Act's language may be insufficient for Bush.
The comments from the White House coincided with a new Vatican campaign urging Roman Catholics and non-Catholics to unite in campaigning against gay marriage and gay adoption. Catholic politicians have a "moral duty" to oppose laws granting legal rights to gay couples, and non-Catholics should follow their lead, said the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Bush's remarks were a nod to conservatives who were angered earlier this month after he distanced himself from the House proposal for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Republican U.S. representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado wants the Constitution amended to read, "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." Her proposal was referred on June 25 to the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution. Musgrave wants "to let the people decide, not unelected judges who are virtually unaccountable to voters," she said Thursday on NBC's Today.