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Bush calls for ban on same-sex marriages

Democrats: President using amendment issue for re-election bid

President Bush makes his comments Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
President Bush makes his comments Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

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Watch for live coverage of the results of Tuesday's caucuses in Hawaii and Idaho and the primary in Utah -- and reactions to President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage -- throughout the evening on CNN-USA.
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CNN's Bill Schneider reports on how President Bush has turned the same-sex marriage issue into a debate over amending the Constitution.
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President Bush calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
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CNN's John King on President Bush's new campaign offensive.
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Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution establishes rules of a two-stage process required to change the document.

Step 1: Two-thirds of the members in the U.S. House of Representatives (290 members) and the U.S. Senate (67 senators) must vote to add or change an amendment, or two-thirds  -- 33 -- of the 50 state legislatures must request the change through a constitutional convention.

Step 2: Three-fourths, or 38, of the 50 state legislatures must vote to accept the change.
Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban same-sex marriages?
George W. Bush
Same-sex marriages
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would restrict marriage to two people of the opposite sex but leave open the possibility that states could allow civil unions.

"The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith," Bush said.

"Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society."

The president said he decided to endorse an amendment because of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's recent decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision two weeks ago to begin giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. (California high court may get same-sex marriage)

"After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization," Bush said. "Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity." (Transcript of Bush comments)

Bush has been under pressure from social conservatives within his political base to come out in favor of such an amendment, several versions of which are floating around Capitol Hill.

Until Tuesday, Bush had only suggested he was open to an amendment, but stopped short of calling for one.

He did not sign onto a specific bill, but called on Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification an amendment "defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife."

But amending the Constitution is difficult, requiring a two-thirds majority each in the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths, or 38, of the 50 states. Besides the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has been amended only 17 times in 215 years, most recently in 1992. (Challenges in passing an amendment)

John Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, said House Republican leaders would be hard-pressed to round up the 291 votes needed to pass an amendment.

Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, said the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the measure next week. Asked if it has the 67 votes needed to pass the Senate, she said, "It'll be close."

Bush's comments were swiftly condemned by Democratic Party leaders as an attempt to write discrimination into the Constitution and by a gay civil rights group as gay bashing. (More reaction)

"Activist courts have left the people with one recourse. If we're to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America," Bush said.

"Decisive and democratic action is needed because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country."

Bush also said state legislatures should be left to define "legal arrangements other than marriage," suggesting that such an amendment would allow states to establish civil unions for same-sex couples.

"Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage," he said. "There is not a contradiction between these responsibilities."

That position did not sit well with some social conservatives, who want an amendment that would prevent states from recognizing both same-sex marriages and civil unions. (More reaction)

Gay group calls act 'desperate'

"It is wrong to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, and it is shameful to use attacks against gay and lesbian families as an election strategy," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.

Sen. John Kerry's campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the announcement makes it clear that Bush's re-election strategy is to "use wedge issues and the politics of fear to divide the nation."

Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has said he supports civil unions and equal protection for gays and lesbians but that he opposes marriage for them. He also said he believes the matter should be an issue for the states.

The leader of the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization called Bush's support for such an amendment a desperate attempt to help his re-election bid and accused him of wanting to bash gay and lesbian families.

Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said such an amendment would have broader ramifications than the ones Bush described.

"Leading constitutional law scholars have come out and said that what the president is supporting ... would indeed strike at the heart of any state's ability to pass domestic partnership benefits [and] civil unions," Jacques said.

A call for civil debate

Bush called for a civil debate on the controversial issue.

"We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger," he said. "In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency."

But Bush said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and laws banning same-sex marriage in 38 states "express an overwhelming consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage."

The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton, prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and allows states to ignore same-sex licenses from outside their borders.

"There is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not itself be struck down by activist courts," Bush said.

"In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage."

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