Some conservative groups expressed dismay Tuesday after President Bush apparently switched course and expressed support for state-sanctioned civil unions for same-sex couples--laws that would grant gay and lesbian couples most or all of the rights available to married couples. "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 in an interview aired Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America.
Bush acknowledged that his position puts him at odds with the Republican Party platform, which includes stated opposition to civil unions. "I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights," said Bush, who has pressed for a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "States ought to be able to have the right to pass laws that enable people to be able to have rights like others."
Some conservative organizations expressed their sharp disagreement with Bush and pressed him to seek a constitutional amendment that would ban both gay marriage and civil unions. "Civil unions are a government endorsement of homosexuality," said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America. "But I don't think President Bush has thought about it in that way. He seems to be striving for neutrality while defending marriage itself." Knight said "counterfeits" of marriage, such as civil unions, "hurt the real thing."
The head of another group, the Campaign for California Families, said it too wants a sweeping constitutional amendment that prohibits civil unions and same-sex marriage. "Here's the truth: Civil unions are homosexual marriage by another name," said Randy Thomasson, the group's executive director. "Civil unions rob marriage of its uniqueness and award homosexuals all the rights of marriage available under state law. Bush needs to understand what's going on and resist counterfeit marriages with all his might no matter what they're called."
But Matt Daniel, the leader of a coalition that successfully pressed for legislation that would create the constitutional ban on gay marriage, said Bush has staked out just the right position. A federal ban on same-sex marriage, not civil unions, "is the way for America to resolve this in the fairest way, the best way," said Daniel, president of the Alliance for Marriage. "We do indeed support the president's position."
A number of pro-gay political organizations accused the president of insincerity and of once again "playing politics" with gay people. "After four years of promoting discrimination, President Bush's attempt to reinvent himself a week before Election Day will not persuade voters," said Cheryl Jacques, executive director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "President Bush's election eve conversion to support civil unions cannot be reconciled with his efforts to change the Constitution to ban civil unions. Any newfound sense of fairness will only be legitimate if it is translated into fair treatment for all American families."