Bush rejects push to OK gay marriages
( 2003-07-31 11:20) (Agencies)
President Bush said Wednesday he respects homosexuals but draws the line at gay weddings, and he disclosed that government lawyers are exploring measures to legally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"I think it is very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country," Bush said.
"On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage," he added. "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."
Bush said, "That is the definition of marriage, and we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that."
His remarks seemed to signal a shift from his position earlier this month, when he said a constitutional ban on gay marriage that has been proposed in the House might not be needed. Rep Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo, was the main sponsor of a proposal to amend the Constitution to read: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." It was referred on June 25 to the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution.
Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" in 2000, and is still trying to bridge the gap between his conservative base and critical swing voters. Some advisers fear any hint of intolerance will alienate middle-of-the-road Americans. Recent polls have shown that just over half of Americans oppose gay marriage, and about four in 10 support it.
"I am mindful that we're all sinners, and I caution those who may try to take the speck out of the neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own," the president said, invoking a biblical passage from the Gospel of St Matthew.
Despite his calibrated language, Bush's statement touched off passionate responses from groups with an interest in the issue.
"There is a real movement for same-sex marriage, and if the president doesn't intervene, and if he doesn't take leadership in this area, we could lose marriage in this country the way we know it," said Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the son of the Rev. Billy Graham. "I think the president is doing the right thing."
The Rev Pat Robertson agreed. Both ministers spoke in Orlando, Fla. at the memorial service for Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.
"I applaud the president's movement on this," Robertson said. "I think it's absolutely important that the American people defend the institution of marriage. It's foundational to our entire society, and I think in order (for) this to be effective, it's going to have to be a constitutional amendment."
Gay-rights activists took offense at Bush's comment that "we're all sinners," interpreting the remark as directed at them.
"While we respect President Bush's religious views, it is unbecoming of the president of the United States to characterize same-sex couples as 'sinners,'" said Matt Foreman, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's executive director. "It's also sad that, at a moment in history that cries out for leadership and moral courage, President Bush has instead opted for the divisive, anti-gay politics of the past."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush was not singling out homosexuals as sinners.
"The president doesn't believe in casting stones. He believes we ought to treat one another with dignity and respect," McClellan said.
The Human Rights Campaign, which says it is the nation's largest gay and lesbian political group, called Bush's exploration of a law on gay marriage a "call to codify discrimination."
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to ignore same-sex unions licensed elsewhere. Bush's aides have said they are studying ways to strengthen the law.
"We ask the president to explain to the American people why DOMA does not already meet the objective he set this morning," the Human Rights Campaign said.
The group also pointed to a statement by Vice President Dick Cheney that suggested he had a different view than Bush's.
Asked during an October 2000 debate whether homosexuals should have all the constitutional rights enjoyed by each American citizen, Cheney said: "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."
"People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business, in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard," Cheney said.
Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian.
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