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During his State of the Union Speech on Tuesday night, President Bush took up the issue of same-sex marriage by referring to the Massachusetts supreme judicial court's ruling that declared the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
Bush said America must defend the tradition of marriage and that he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
"Activist judges...have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives," Bush said. "If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process."
Reactions by gay rights activists to the speech, in which the president seemed to be making an election-year issue out of same-sex marriage, were swift.
"In more than 200 years of American history the Constitution has never amended to deny basic rights and responsibilities," said Cheryl Jacques, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "It is always wrong to use the Constitution to discriminate against any American. The Constitution should never be used to deny fundamental rights, like the ability to visit a partner in the hospital or the protection of Social Security survivor benefits. The bottom line is that gay Americans live in more than 99% of the counties in this country, and more than 1 million children in this country are being raised by same-sex couples. Those families and children deserve the rights and protections of marriage, and we are deeply disappointed that the president used the State of the Union address to attack our families and divide the country. Tonight the president missed an opportunity to discuss issues that bring the nation together, like combating hate violence and ending employment discrimination."
Immediately following the speech, the gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans warned the president that engaging in a culture war 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. Log Cabin Republicans have stood with this president in the war on terror. Log Cabin supports the president on cutting taxes for American families and expanding efforts to combat HIV/AIDS at home and abroad. Log Cabin will not stand by while anyone attempts to write discrimination into the Constitution. It is unnecessary, and it cheapens our sacred Constitution.... Last night's speech shows us how much work remains in our effort to build a more inclusive GOP. To be the majority party, the GOP must be built on a foundation of freedom, fairness, and equality for all Americans."
"We are appalled by the president's direct attack on the fundamental principle of American democracy, an independent judiciary," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Contrary to the president's statement, our courts were not created to enforce the will of the people but to enforce and interpret the law. Mr. Bush ought to understand this, given that he sits in the White House because of court action, not the will of the people. We urge the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts not to give in to these crass, manipulative threats and continue to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the birthplace of American liberty. We are also disgusted by the president's sanctimonious hypocrisy in saying how the debate around denying gay people the right to marry is important. He and the extreme religious and political right to which he is pandering are saying that we--lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans--are not entitled to equal rights. It doesn't matter how you say that, it is wrong. At the very least, the president needs to have the guts to call it for what it is: utter disdain for and discrimination against gay people."
"President Bush has proved that he doesn't care about gay families. He just doesn't," said Dave Noble, executive director for the National Stonewall Democrats. "He's completely ignorant to the reality that gay families have existed throughout American history. The Massachusetts ruling doesn't change that fact. It only recognizes that gay families are being discriminated against and should be afforded all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. During his three years in office, President Bush has done nothing to help strengthen the thousands of American families headed by gay couples. He has stated his opposition to marriage equality, but he has not offered any alternative to address inequality. This speech only reflects the callous indifference that the president harbors toward our families. Earlier [Tuesday] evening, White House chief of staff Andrew Card told CNN that the president 'thinks there should be a debate about [an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment].' Card further stated that the president believed that 'by talking about it in the State of the Union address, he knows that he will stimulate a responsible debate.'"
Bush's speech also called for Congress and the nation to "stand with our families to help them raise healthy, responsible children," said Aimee Gelnaw, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to securing equality for LGBT parents and their families.
"We couldn't agree more with efforts to strengthen our families and provide our children with the best possible environments at home, at school, and in other institutions of our choosing," she said. "But when a lesbian or gay parent is denied the opportunity to be with his or her child in the emergency room, we aren't serving or protecting our children's health. When children are called out and punished at school for honestly answering questions about their families, we aren't providing them with the best of educational opportunities. Our country can do better, and all our children deserve our best efforts. To continue with this effort to deny marriage--or any legal recognition of our relationships--is anathema to any call to stand for families. While President Bush tries to appear more compassionate by following his incredibly divisive remarks with a reminder that 'each individual has dignity and value in God's sight,' he completely fails to recognize that basic human dignity by supporting efforts to discriminate against lesbian and gay Americans."