WASHINGTON – President Bush spoke out again Monday on behalf of the Federal Marriage Amendment to a group of clergy and members of conservative lobbying groups.
The amendment would ban gay marriage in all states. A debate on the amendment began in the Senate Monday. A vote is likely this week.
“This national question requires a national solution,” Bush said. “An amendment to the Constitution is necessary because activist courts have left our nation with no other choice. When judges insist on imposing their arbitrary will on the people,the only alternative left to the people is an amendment to the Constitution,the only law a court cannot overturn.”
The amendment was also the subject of Bush's weekly radio address Saturday.
Few people,including some of the bill's proponents,believe it has a chance to pass. A House version of the amendment has been referred to a committee.
A Gallup Poll taken last month found the country almost evenly divided over a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage,with 50 percent in favor,47 percent opposed and 3 percent unsure. But the poll's margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. The same poll found 58 percent opposed to gay marriage.
The last time Republicans tried to push through an amendment barring gay marriage two years ago it received 48 votes,falling well short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. Amendments must also be approved by 38 states.
After the meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Building next to the White House,James Dobson,founder of Focus on the Family and a conservative radio host,said,
“My hope and prayer is that it will get more [votes] this time.”
The president's approval ratings have sunk to about 35 percent,and some people say he has lost popularity with his conservative base. His recent public statements on the amendment have some asserting that he is pushing the issue to boost his standings with conservatives.
“That is an attempt to trivialize the issue,” Dobson said. “He made that statement early on,even in his campaign speeches. … Everything has a political foundation to it,but I certainly don't see that being the reason that we're here.”
Dobson said he hoped the amendment would ban civil unions as well but is prepared to fight that issue at the state level.
“What this vote will do is help voters identify who is and is not supportive of the family,and I think those who are not will have to answer for it,” Dobson said.
Matt Daniels,president of the Alliance for Marriage,reiterated a conversation he said he and the president had earlier in the day.
“I was raised on welfare in Spanish Harlem,” Daniels said he told Bush. He said he witnessed many broken families there.
He said Bush replied,“You were born in Spanish Harlem? I was born a long way away from Spanish Harlem.”
Daniels said he told the president: “This institution of marriage,defined as a man and a woman,providing mothers and fathers for children,is an institution that bridges the gap between where you were born and where I was born.”
Only one Democratic senator,Ben Nelson of Nebraska,has said he will vote for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,a possible 2008 presidential candidate,has said he will not support the amendment unless either the Supreme Court or a federal court says states must recognize gay marriages.
Congressional Republicans are facing slumping poll numbers,and they hope the issue will help them in the fall elections. In 2004,state ballot initiatives on gay marriage helped bring out conservative voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Florida.