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GOP's gay dilemma

Bush faces some Republican reluctance on amendment


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's been more than a week since the president weighed in on same-sex marriage, saying a constitutional amendment was necessary to "prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever."

Since then, hundreds of gay couples across the country have tied the knot; in New York, the mayor of New Paltz will likely stand trial for performing the unions, and Democrats have found grist for their continued assault on the president.

"We reject the politics of fear and distortion," thundered presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in his Super Tuesday victory speech, adding that Bush "has no right to misuse the most precious document in our history in an effort to divide this nation and distract us from his failures."

Attacks from the left are to be expected. Trepidation from the right, perhaps less so.

True, traditional Bush loyalists have remained firmly in the president's camp. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, backed up the proposed amendment, saying that "serious people have reluctantly recognized that an amendment may be the only way to ensure survival of traditional marriage in America."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, vowed to fight for the measure, noting a recent Massachusetts court ruling that opened the door to same-sex marriages. Said Frist, "When you have activist judges radically redefining what marriage means and what the law spells out, we're going to act."

But other prominent Republicans are not rushing to embrace the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

On the liberal wing of the GOP, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island lamented, "Why, why, why are we going to take on the challenge of forbidding two people who love each other from getting married and going to the extraordinary lengths of amending our Constitution?"

Coming from Chafee, perhaps these comments don't surprise. But it is noteworthy that more conservative GOP lawmakers are treading gingerly.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated he'd leave the definition of marriage to the individual states.

And Sen. George Allen of Virginia -- no liberal he -- demurs, saying, "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. We must treat everyone during this important debate with dignity and respect while continuing to hold to our principles."

One of the nation's most prominent and popular Republicans is adding his voice to the fray. During a recent appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threw cold water on talk of tweaking the Constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

After saying that the idea of gay marriage was "fine with me," Schwarzenegger added, "I think since we have a state law, I think those issues should be left to the state, so I have no use for a constitutional amendment or changing that at all."

The anti-amendment sentiment has been echoed by the top Republicans in New York, which will host this summer's GOP presidential convention. Both Gov. George Pataki and Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg oppose the move to change the Constitution.

So where does this all leave the president? A recent Gallup poll shows his party overwhelmingly supports the proposed amendment, by a margin of 70 percent to 28 percent. But Americans as a whole are divided, with the Gallup survey showing 53 percent in favor of the change the Constitution and 44 percent opposed.

For some Republicans, that is serious cause for concern -- especially in a big election year.


Judy Woodruff is CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She also anchors "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," weekdays at 3:30 pm ET.

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