Feature

Bush’s Support Can’t Save a Gay-Marriage Ban

The Senate didn’t approve a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and many accuse Bush of trying to divert attention from the war in Iraq.

What happenedDespite a strong push from President Bush, the Senate this week voted down a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The tally, 49 senators in favor and 48 opposed, fell 11 votes short of the total needed to end debate, therefore killing the measure. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the Marriage Protection Amendment was needed to protect family values from 'œactivist judges' who may view gay marriage as a constitutional right. But Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy called the amendment an unprecedented effort to 'œenshrine discrimination in the Constitution.'

A constitutional amendment requires the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress along with three-quarters of the states, and nobody expected the gay-marriage ban to pass. Still, President Bush in recent days has been touting the amendment because gay marriage is a 'œnational question that requires a national solution.' Democrats accused Bush of trying to divert attention from the war in Iraq, high gasoline prices, and other problems. But social conservatives welcomed Bush's support, saying it would help mobilize Republicans for the November congressional elections. The Senate debate, said activist Grover Norquist, reminds conservatives 'œwhat team they're on.'

What the editorials said This is a fight worth having, said National Review Online. By now, it's clear that most states want to preserve the concept of marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Already, 19 states have enshrined traditional marriage in their constitutions, and 26 more have passed statutes for the same purpose. 'œBut their votes may not ultimately prove decisive' because federal judges could subvert the will of the people by striking down such laws. 'œOnly an amendment to the U.S. Constitution can protect states from having same-sex marriage foisted upon them by the courts.'

What a red herring, said The Boston Globe. The real issue is not whether some phantom federal judges will force states to recognize gay unions, it's whether gays should have the same opportunities as heterosexuals to share a life with the ones they love. Gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for two years, and there is absolutely no evidence that heterosexual marriage has been harmed in any way. 'œAmerica needs effective government action to solve serious and life-threatening problems. Gay marriage isn't one of them.'

What the commentators said

It's obvious what's going on here, said Mike Littwin in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. 'œThere's a war on—and what better time to debate the soul-searching issue of whether Jim could marry Jack or whether Janice could marry Jennifer.' But while Bush was happy to change the subject, his 'œheart wasn't in it.' Bush hardly mentioned gay marriage until conservatives began threatening to boycott the November elections. And an anonymous Bush friend told Newsweek that Bush 'œdoesn't give a s--- about' the issue. But even if he were more convincing, gay marriage isn't the sure vote-getter it was in 2004. While a majority of Americans still oppose gay marriage, only 42 percent favor amending the Constitution to ban it in every state.

Bush knows what he's doing, said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. A recent Gallup poll shows that two-thirds of Republican voters favor the amendment. Staking out a strong position now not only revs up the party for November, it also elevates the issue to 'œright to life' status as a GOP plank. That may aggravate some liberals on the coasts, but not most Americans. The amendment is not 'œa sop to social conservatives,' it's a 'œserious rallying cry' for anyone who favors traditional marriage.

Actually, social conservatives ought to be fed up with Bush, said Cynthia Tucker in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Having ignored gay marriage for two years, he has worked up a bit of outrage 'œjust as the election season begins.' For some people, this is a matter of deep religious conviction. While many of us don't want other people's religious views enshrined in our Constitution, these beliefs don't deserve to be treated as 'œa political prop.'

What next?

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