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Bush Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage
Aired February 24, 2004 - 10:41 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in to President Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Please be seated.
Eight years ago, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for purposes of federal law as the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
The act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342-67 and the Senate by a vote of 85-14.
Those congressional votes, and the passage of similar defense-of- marriage laws in 38 states, express an overwhelming consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage.
In recent months, however, some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage.
In Massachusetts, four judges on the highest court have indicated they will order the issuance of marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender in May of this year.
In San Francisco, city officials have issued thousands of marriage licenses to people of the same gender, contrary to the California Family Code. That code, which clearly defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of California.
A county in New Mexico has also issued marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender.
And unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.
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. Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity.
On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. 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. Decisive and democratic action is needed because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.
The Constitution says that "full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts and records and judicial proceedings of every other state."
Those who want to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in America.
Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act by declaring that no state must accept another state's definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress.
Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not itself be struck down by activist courts. 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.
Furthermore, even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.
For all these reasons, the defense of marriage requires a constitutional amendment.
An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process has addressed many serious matters of national concern, and the preservation of marriage rises to this level of national importance.
The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.
Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.
Today, I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.
America's a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions.
Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities.
We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.
In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency.
Thank you very much.
KAGAN: It doesn't look like the president is going to answer any questions. Coming out and making a very plain statement calling on Congress, as quickly as possible, the president would like for them to pass amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage. It would define as a marriage as between a man and woman and not two people of the same gender.
Dana Bash is standing by at the White House. She's been listening in to the speech as well. Dana, the president taking that next step, going from saying that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman to saying this should be in the U.S. Constitution.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And saying that the reason now, he believes it's necessary to amend the Constitution is because he said the court rulings in Massachusetts, the more than 3,000 same-sex marriages in California have created a situation in this country he believes, in his words, "requires clarity." That is why he said it is necessary at this time to begin to take the steps in Congress to have a constitutional amendment.
He also made very clear, it's important to note, although he said that he wants this amendment to say that marriage is defined as an institution between a man and a woman, that he does not want to dictate to the states exactly how they define their own arrangements, other than marriage, leaving open the possibility that civil unions, for example, like what we've seen in Vermont, could potentially still stand if the constitutional amendment does pass.
But this, Daryn, it's important to note that a constitutional amendment is not an easy thing to get passed. That this is something that requires two-thirds majorities in the Congress, and of course, the same in the states.
And already, members of Congress are saying that this is going to be very difficult to get through. It's an evenly divided Congress. But if you look at the poll numbers, there is a strong opposition, if you will, to the idea of gay marriage. But Americans are pretty much split down the line on whether or not you actually need to amend the Constitution in order to address this issue.
Here's a little bit of what Bush had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever. Our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, it's also important to note here the way the president chose his language, chose his words. He said a number of times that he believes marriage is perhaps the first and most important institution of the civilization of mankind, if you will.
He wanting to make it clear that in his words that he is not somebody who wants to show intolerance, simply that he thinks that this is a fundamental principle, as he put it and as his spokesmen have put it, that marriage is between a man and a woman.
And that at this point, because of all of what is going on in the courts, it is time to start to find, as he put it, some clarity in the way we define marriage in this country.
KAGAN: Dana, I'm going to try to speak over the construction noise banging there behind you.
The president going into some interesting territory here. As you said, there are polls across the country that say a lot of people are not in favor of same-sex marriage. And yet for a lot of people, it goes to a different place when you use the U.S. Constitution to take away rights from U.S. citizens. That's new territory.
BASH: That's right. And the president addressed that saying he understands that amending the Constitution is a really big deal. And he said that he understands that it certainly only happens when an issue rises to the level, as he put it, of national importance. He's making the case that this does actually rise to that level.
Now, just the backdrop here, conservatives, as we well know, have made this issue almost a litmus test for them. The conservative base is very important for Mr. Bush this coming election year. They want to make sure that they don't sit at home. They want to make sure that they get out. And this particular issue, this social issue is No. 1 on their list.
And because of the broad appeal, if you will, for banning this kind of marriage, the White House felt at this time in this election year it wouldn't be that much of a leap, perhaps, that would hurt his compassionate conservative agenda, compassionate conservative image to support something like this.
KAGAN: Dana Bash at the White House. Dana, thank you.
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