President Bush announced his support on Tuesday (February 24) for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a move anticipated by social conservatives and seen by many as a response to recent strides in gay rights made in Massachusetts and San Francisco.
"Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as the union of a man and woman as husband and wife," Bush said in the White House's Roosevelt Room.
This statement comes on the heels of the president's Monday night appearance at a benefit for the Republican Governors Association, which, along with the airing of his first campaign ads, effectively launched his re-election campaign.
Polls indicate that a majority of Americans (near 60 percent in most surveys) oppose gay marriage, but the country seems more evenly split as to whether or not the issue needs to be written into the Constitution. Critics of the president's proposal, like Senator John McCain, himself a candidate in 2000, cite concerns ranging from the questionable necessity of a constitutional amendment to accusations of human-rights violations against gays. Senator McCain opposes gay marriage, but does not want to see the matter addressed in a constitutional amendment.
"I think that our founding fathers designed the constitution in such a way that it's incredibly difficult and laborious to amend it, and I would not like for us to go that route," McCain told MTV News. "There may be a day before you die, maybe not before I die, where the majority of Americans feel that same-sex unions are appropriate. Society is changing," he added.
"America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens," Bush said, preemptively addressing those concerns. "This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefining of one of our most basic social institutions."
Though the proposed amendment would define marriage as a heterosexual union, states would be left to determine the particulars of other arrangements, the president said. Ostensibly, such a structure would allow states to make provisions for gay couples in areas like taxation and health insurance but would deny the explicit label of marriage to these couples.
Mary Cheney, the gay daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, has also been brought to the foreground by the issue. Although she's been working on the re-election campaign for her father and has taken no official stance on the amendment, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that gay-rights supporters had posted thousands of letters on the Internet asking Mary Cheney to oppose the move.
In recent weeks, Bush supporters have called for a more aggressive response from the president to flagging approval ratings, suspicions about his military record and the increasing momentum of Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry, and Tuesday's announcement appears to be the first act of that renewed offensive.
Bush laid the groundwork for his strategy in a speech Monday night before the Republican Governors Association. Ardently defending his positions on everything from the ongoing war on terrorism to his controversial No Child Left Behind legislation, he also all but threw down the gauntlet for Kerry.
And though the president stopped short of naming the Massachusetts senator, who still faces competition from North Carolina Senator John Edwards for the Democratic nomination, he stressed a history of Democratic waffling and issued a pointed indictment of the candidates' wartime stance.
"Our opponents have not offered much in the way of strategies to win the war, or policies to expand our economy," he said. "So far, all we hear is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America."
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