Bush calls heterosexual marriage 'ideal'
Says debate on amendment should be civil
President Bush says a constitutional amendment wil allow "the voice of the people" to be heard.
Entertainer Rosie O'Donnell flew to San Francisco, California, to marry her longtime female partner.
CNN's David Mattingly on the debate swirling around a proposed ban on same-sex marriage.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Friday he supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages because it is his job to "drive policy toward the ideal."
In his first exchange with reporters since announcing his stance, Bush repeated his call for a civil debate on what he described as a "sensitive" subject. His proposal to amend the Constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples has drawn praise from conservatives, but condemnation from many Democrats and gay advocates.
"I believe marriage has served society well and I believe it is important to affirm that marriage of a man and woman is ideal, and the job of the president is to drive policy toward the ideal," Bush told reporters in response to a question.
He said he supports amending the Constitution because "the voice of the people need to be heard, and the constitutional process was the best way to do such."
Four years ago, Bush -- then a candidate for the White House -- described the notion of same-sex marriage as a state issue. Bush made clear his personal opposition to same-sex marriages, but he said on several occasions that it was a matter for individual states to decide.
But in the wake of state court action in Massachusetts that has opened the door to a recognition of same-sex marriages and marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in San Francisco, California, Bush is now calling for federal intervention.
Some Democrats have questioned whether Bush proposed the amendment to distract attention from his Iraqi policy and the economy. Bush, however, has said that the actions in Massachusetts and California forced him to take a more aggressive stand on the issue.
Speaking briefly to reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bush faced just one question on the marriage debate.
He took the opportunity to reiterate that the issue is sensitive and should be discussed civilly.
"It is important that people hold true to their beliefs without condemning anybody else. And so therefore I call on all sides of the debate to conduct themselves with dignity and honor and respect. But this is a debate that the nation must have," he said.