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Bush Calls on Congress to Pass Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage

Aired February 24, 2004 - 10:55   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And that's President Bush. If you're with us just a few minutes ago, making the announcement live here. You saw it here on CNN, President Bush calling on Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. He made reference to what's taking place in Massachusetts, also San Francisco, where thousands of couples have taken advantage of a recent move by the mayor there to allow same-sex marriage.

Let's go to San Francisco now, where our David Mattingly is standing by live with perhaps some reaction to what the president has just said.

Good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, no reaction just yet out of San Francisco city hall. If you remember, it was Mayor Gavin Newsom's ease decision to allow same-sex couples to marry here in San Francisco, after hearing the president's defense of marriage in his State of the Union Address. The mayor then deciding to allow gay couples to marry in the city of San Francisco.

And since starting 13 days ago, the city has issued over 3,000, more than 3,200, in fact, licenses to same-sex couples, allowing them to marry here in the city of San Francisco.

Just yesterday, the state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, announced that he will be filing before the state supreme court on Friday, asking the state's high court to rule on this matter. He was calling it, saying immediate action was necessary by the highest court, because, he said, this is a concern of statewide concern and urgency. The legal issues faced here are, one, is the city of San Francisco violating state law that defines marriage between one man and one woman, or does the state constitution of California protect gay couples, allowing equal protection and allowing same-sex couples to marry. So a very big issue, and the attorney general here trying to go around this, go straight to the state supreme court to get a decision now -- Daryn. KAGAN: All right, and meanwhile, the marriages take place. You have to make an appointment, though, now at city hall, right, because the reaction was so huge?

MATTINGLY: That's right. It's a sign that city hall is trying to get back to business as usual and cut down on the lines that were outside of city hall. They are allowing same-sex couples to continue getting their licenses, but they have to do so by appointment only.

Yesterday, there was a small line outside city hall in the morning. The city said that they were going to give preferential treatment to the people standing in line who were from out of state.

And of course, this is a huge concern for opponents to gay marriage here in San Francisco, that people will come here to get married and go back to their home states, and then begin challenging the laws in their own states to recognize the union that they are doing legally here in San Francisco.

KAGAN: Well, and we heard President Bush address that claim that, in the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in the Clinton administration, it says that a single state doesn't to honor another state's rules on marriage, but he's not convinced that as it stands now, that that will be strong enough to prevent one state from being forced to honor, for example, a marriage taking place in San Francisco.

David, thank you. We're going to bring you back in the next hour.

Meanwhile, as we get close to the next hour, we welcome our viewers and talk about our breaking story, and that is President Bush joining the fight against gay marriage. The announcement on CNN live just a short time ago. You saw Mr. Bush come out in support of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

Let's go back to the White House now and our Dana Bash, who has been bringing this news to us.

Dana, good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Daryn.

And president Bush has been deliberating this decision for some time. He made it clear in statements over the past couple of weeks that what has been going on in Massachusetts, with that court perhaps in the next couple of months making it unconstitutional to ban gay marriage, if you will, and, of course, watching the more than 3,000 same-sex marriages in California, that he'd already been thinking about this issue, but that those particular events that have been going on have made his decision much more important, much more imminent in his view, and certainly the fact that he had gotten a lot of pressure from conservatives in his own country to step up his decision, and to decide that he will push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but that also clearly played into his decision. Let's listen to what the president said in explaining why he is supporting this at this time.


BUSH: On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. After these courts (ph) have left the people with one recourse. We are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever. Our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect...


BASH: Now the president also alluded to the fact that there was a law that was passed in 1996 under President Clinton, called the Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially said that states didn't have to pay attention to, didn't have to abide by some same-sex marriage or union laws in other states. That is something that the president said he certainly supports and wants to make sure it stays in place, and that is why he is looking at what is going on in the courts around the country. He's afraid that that particular law will get overturned.

Now a constitutional amendment, it's important to note here, is very hard to do. It's very difficult to amend the Constitution. Members of Congress, Republican leaders in the House and Senate, have said that they are going to get going on this in the next coming weeks, but the House of Representatives, the speaker, mentioned to reporters earlier today that he doesn't think that this is even going to get going, in term of a final vote, until close to the election.

But certainly, Daryn, there's going to be a lot of debate between now and then, particularly since the Democrats have already, leading up to this, been accusing the White House of wanting to stir this issue up, because they see this as a cultural wedge issue. The Democrats have accused the White House of looking at Iraq and jobs, which haven't, in their view, been going Mr. Bush's way, and say that they want, that the White House, the Bush campaign, is interested in talking about gay marriage, because they think it could benefit them in the fall. But certainly, this is going to be a big issue on the campaign trail -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, and interestingly enough, of course, one of the big battlegrounds taking place in Massachusetts, the home state of John Kerry, the Democratic front-runner.

I want to talk to you about what seems to be the big word here, and that is the word "marriage," Dana. In listening to the president's language, it seemed he would, with the kind of constitutional amendment he would support, would leave open the room if certain states wanted to have civil unions between same-gender couples.

BASH: That's right. And what senior aides here have been pointing us to is a piece of legislation that's already been proposed in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, and that does define marriage as between a man and woman. But it also does, as you mentioned, leave open the possibility for states if they have laws, like civil unions, to perhaps keep those. It's unclear if that is the specific piece of legislation that Mr. Bush will actually endorse. But in terms of the principle, that is what he said that he is going to support. And that is important to know, because although the Republican philosophy, if you will, socially would be to oppose a gay marriage, it is also very much to leave the states alone and let them make some very big decisions on their own, and that is why they're trying to walk this fine line here.

But you noted, the president's language was very, very interesting, very clear. He said a number of times that marriage is between a man and a woman, tried very hard not to sound at all intolerant of gay rights, specifically talking about this from the point of view of a man and woman and said this is something many religions, most religions, define, marriage -- that define marriage as not between same-sex couples, but between a man and woman.

KAGAN: Dana Bash at the White House. Dana, thank you for that.

As we said, the two big battlegrounds at this point, Massachusetts, the home state of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic front-runner. Also, San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom has allowed same-sex marriages to take place in the last couple of weeks, ordering that marriages licenses be issued in that city. Let's go back to our David Mattingly, who is standing by there in San Francisco -- David.

MATTINGLY: Daryn, ever since the state of Massachusetts, that court ruling that allowed gay marriage there, there's been a rush by states across the country, at least a dozen of them, with concrete plans to push a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in their own states. California has no such provision in their constitution, and that's where Mayor Gavin Newsom is finding his strength behind his argument, is that the same-sex couples in the state of California deserve the same equal protection under the law that heterosexual couples enjoy when they are allowed to marry.

And since his decision to allow marriage licenses for gay couples in the city of San Francisco, there have been over 3,200 couples come forward to receive their marriage licenses, many of them from out of state, and the concern among opponents of gay marriage is that they many of these couples will go back to their home states, try to challenge the state laws there, challenge their employers, challenge insurance companies to provide them with equal benefits, equal to what heterosexual couples now enjoy.

But the attorney general here in the state of California, Bill Lockyer, yesterday announced that on Friday, he will be announcing the state supreme court to rule on this issue, to once and for all decide here in California, is the city of San Francisco breaking state law that defines marriage as strictly between one man and one woman, or do same-sex couples, in fact, enjoy the same legal protection as heterosexual couples do here in this state?

So, again, the attorney general trying to get past the court cases now pending and go straight to the state supreme court to get a decision on this. He's hoping that the state supreme court will act quickly and clear this up -- Daryn.

KAGAN: David Mattingly in San Francisco. David, thank you for that.



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