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Gay Marriage Ban; Deadline in Haiti

Aired February 24, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Gay marriage ban. President Bush raises the stakes.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.

BLITZER: Can it be done?

Chilling testimony.

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: Catastrophic attacks on the scale of 9/11 remain within al Qaeda's reach.

BLITZER: Chilling new tapes about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in America.

Killer quake. It struck suddenly as villagers slept. Hundreds are feared dead.

Deadline in Haiti. A call for help and a warning that thousands may die. Can diplomats head off a bloodbath and a new wave of boat people?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, February 24, 2004.


BLITZER: The stake would be high at any time, but in an election year they're nothing less than enormous. President Bush, in the move that will galvanize his political base as well as his opponents, is now endorsing a constitutional amendment to ban gay and lesbian couples from getting married.

Our senior White House correspondent John King begins our coverage -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, that announcement today puts the president at center stage in an election year. Emotional, legal and political debate. The president has been under pressure from religious conservatives for months to endorse such a constitutional amendment.

He has been waiting and waiting but today in the Roosevelt Room at the White House the president said in a decision by San Francisco to give thousands of licenses to gay couples to get married in defiance of state law in addition to court rulings in Massachusetts and worries other communities in the United States might issue gay license, the president says, Wolf, that left him no choice.


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


KING: Now on the surface, this is an issue on which the president has broad public support. Nearly two-thirds of American, 64 percent in the most recent CNN poll, opposed gay marriage. But not all of those opponents believe it is an issue that merits tinkering with the Constitution. It's about a 50/50 split when you ask the question should the Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage?

So a controversial political debate to come off, Wolf. Both Democratic, leading Democratic presidential candidates, Senators John Edwards and John Kerry, criticizing the president today. There's no guarantee that this can pass in the Congress. But it is for certain now center stage, a divisive issue in the presidential campaign debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John King at the White House. Thanks, John, very much.

With the president's endorsement, the controversy does now move to Capitol Hill where reaction already is mixed and the future of a proposed amendment right now is highly uncertain. Our congressional correspondent Joe Johns has details -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, leaders of the House and Senate have said they want to hold a vote on the amendment this year, but they're also planning to be very careful about it.


JOHNS (voice-over): A constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is the kind of cultural issue that gets Congress all riled up, especially during an election year. For some it's an appeal to their base voters.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Marriage has been set up by cultures in the past not to affirm the love of one person of another. If that were the case, mothers and daughters and fathers and sons could be married if all it was about was affirming love between two people.

JOHNS: For others it's an opportunity to blast administration.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The Constitution has often been amended to expand and protect people's rights, never to take away or restrict their rights.

By endorsing the shameful proposal, President Bush will go down in history as the first president to try to write bias back into the Constitution.

JOHNS: But to pass the Congress and go onto the states for ratification, there are several hurdles. A constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate which can be tough to achieve. The amendment also has to overcome concerns of some influential Republicans.

REP. DAVID DRIER (R), CALIFORNIA: I will say that I'm not supportive of amending the Constitution on this issue. I believe it's a states rights issue.


JOHNS: And if there's any doubt about the approach over on the House side, Majority Leader Tom DeLay put it bluntly today. Quote, he said, "This is so important we're not going to take a knee-jerk reaction on to it." Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Joe Johns on Capitol Hill.

The president's move comes as ten states are considering changing their own constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. They include New Mexico, Idaho, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts. That state's highest court has ordered the legislature to allow gay marriages starting in May.

We'll have more on this very contentious issue later this hour when Elizabeth Birch, the former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian political organization in the U.S., debates the Reverend Jerry Falwell. They'll join me live. The subject same-sex marriage.

And here's your turn to weigh in on this story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this: should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban same-sex marriages? You can vote right now, go to We'll have the results later in this broadcast.

While you're there, though, I'd love to hear directly from you. Send me your comments any time. I'll try to read some of them on the air each day the at end of this program.

That's also where you can read my daily online column,

Chilling new tapes threatening new terror attacks against the United States. They aired today on Arab language television. The voice behind them claims to be Osama bin Laden's top deputy.


BLITZER (voice-over): Two different audiotapes have surfaced. Each allegedly recorded by Ayman al-Zawarhiri, each addressing very recent events.

One aired by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel appears to in response to President Bush's State of Union Address last month when he said nearly two-thirds of al Qaeda's leadership had been captured or killed.

AYMAN AL-ZAWARHIRI (through translator): We remind Bush that he didn't destroy two-thirds of al Qaeda. On the contrary, al Qaeda, with God's help, remains in the field of jihad, raising the flag of the Islam in the face of the Zionists and Crusader campaign against it.

BLITZER: That's followed by a direct warning of the president of new terror attacks to come.

AL-ZAWARHIRI(through translator): Bush, protect your targets, strengthen your defenses and heighten your security measures. The Muslim nation which sent you the contingent of New York and Washington is determined to send you a contingent after the other, carrying death and longing for paradise.

BLITZER: The second tape, aired on the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel, also directly refers to recent events. It signals out the French government which is right now trying to ban religious headwear in public schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The French president's decision to pass a law banning Muslim woman from hearing the hijab, the head scarf in schools is another proof of the Crusaders' hatred towards Muslims.

BLITZER: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says the tapes are still being analyzed.

TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: For the time being we already know we're a target. We'll leave it at that.


BLITZER: And just a short while ago, a CIA spokesman told our national security correspondent David Ensor that a technical analysis shows the voice on the audiotapes is probably that of al-Zawarhiri.

The Pentagon announced that two alleged associates of Osama bin Laden are the first of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners to face criminal charges, they'll go on trial before a military tribunal.

Let's go live to senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these two men are among the 650 detainees the United States is holding indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are also among the six President Bush identified last year as people who would be facing the military tribunals, the U.S. military commission. Described by the Pentagon as bodyguards and drivers for Osama bin Laden, both men are charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes for helping bin Laden plan and carry out terrorist attacks.

In a Pentagon statement, a Yemeni suspect named Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlu is described as, quote, "a key al Qaeda propagandist who produced videos glorifying murder of Americans." He's said to have made a recruiting video about the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole to motivate other members of al Qaeda to continue attacks against the U.S.

Meanwhile a Sudanese man, Ibraham Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, is identified as, quote, "a key al Qaeda accountant, a bin Laden bodyguard and weapons smuggler." He's said to have shepherded bin Laden around Afghanistan, helped him flee from Kandahar as U.S. forces were closing in on him in late 2001.

These two men, we're told, are not the biggest fish in custody. In fact more charges should be coming in the days ahead. And neither faces the death penalty.

But it's also the case that a not guilty verdict might not necessarily free them. The Pentagon says it will hold onto anyone that it considers a future threat regardless of the verdict of the military commissions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie, thank you very much.

And they're voting right now. Americans are voting in three more states that are casting their votes this hour.

Haiti uprising, rebels wreak havoc in the north and vow to take control of the country's capital.


GEORGE J. TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: Across the operational spectrum, air maritime special weapons. We have time and again uncovered plots that are chilling.


BLITZER: Frightening words indeed, the CIA chief warns attacks as horrific as 9/11 actually remain within al Qaeda's reach.

And digging out of the rubble, we'll go live to Morocco where the rescuers are racing against time, after a deadly earthquake strikes. More hard news just ahead on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.


BLITZER: Happening right now, this hour, marks a diplomatic deadline set by the U.S. and its allies for opposition groups in Haiti to accept a peace proposal. That nation's embattled president has appealed for help and warned of a bloodbath, if rebels attack the capital. We're standing by for more information. CNN's Lucia Newman is in St. Mark, Haiti, we're expecting her to join us shortly. Is Lucia available?

All right, we're going to get hooked up with Lucia Newman, get the latest information what's happening, what's happening specifically in Haiti. This note, though, the Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton says he is willing to make a trip to Haiti and to meet with all sides there in the hope of trying to reach some sort of deal that can, in his word, halt the bloodshed. Al Sharpton suggesting he's ready to make the move to Haiti. We'll go to Lucia Newman in Haiti shortly.

Let's move on to the campaign trail now, where more Democratic delegates are at stake as a full February draws to a close. On top (UNINTELLIGIBLE) today, a presidential primary in Utah and caucuses in Idaho and Hawaii. 61 delegates are up for grabs, but while those contests are playing out, the Democrats are focusing in on a much bigger prize, specifically next week's Super Tuesday contest. Today the Democratic front-runner John Kerry is visiting Ohio, one of the Super Tuesday states. At one stop Kerry reacted to President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the amendment provides for partnership and civil union, which I believe is the appropriate way to extend rights that would be a good amendment. I think that you need to have civil union, that's my position.


BLITZER: John Kerry's main rival, Senator John Edwards is on a southern swing, he's visiting Georgia and Texas today. At a stop this morning in Atlanta, the senator from North Carolina criticized President Bush for his effort to put the ban on gay marriages in the constitution.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What this indicates is the president is not in touch with what's going on with the people's lives. If he really wants to help married couples, what he should be doing is helping with all their economic problems, their health care problems.


BLITZER: Our political analyst Carlos Watson has been watching all of these developments, he joins us live from New York. Carlos, the politics of this presidential call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, is it a winning issue for the president looking down to November?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Interestingly enough, Wolf, I think in the short term it will be. It will do three significant things, one, it will be a tremendous fund-raiser among grassroots Republicans, they ultimately could raise 15 to $20 million additional on this issue which again they can use to help further help define John Kerry.

Two, they feel like in several of the battleground states including states like Ohio and maybe even Indiana, states where Democrats had some thought of competing, they think, again, they can put Democrats on the defensive.

And three, it's part of a broader effort not just to paint Democrats but significantly to paint John Kerry as being a Massachusetts liberal. Again, part of this issue emanates from a decision based on the Massachusetts supreme court, and again it's an effort to say he's out of touch with you, he's another Massachusetts liberal along the lines of Michael Dukakis, et cetera. And I think it actually will resonate early on. We'll see whether or not it continues to resonate as more of the conversation turns to Iraq, and more of the conversation turns to unemployment numbers in March and April and as more of the conversation turns to health care crisis where you've got 43 or 44 million people without adequate health care.

BLITZER: How significant, Carlos, is it that John Kerry opposes gay marriage although he also opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, he favors same-sex civil unions, is that a difference that's going to be appreciated by the American public?

WATSON: So far, the early polls suggest it is a difference with a distinction. If you ask the question in some polls whether or not you oppose gay marriage, the answer comes back 75 percent of the population opposes gay marriage. If you ask the question whether or not you oppose civil unions then the number is more like 50/50 and we'll see what continues to happen. Remember, this is an issue, Wolf, where popular personalities whether it's Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen Degeneres, some of the guys from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" could weigh in and could change the whole dynamic of this conversation. I mean, make it not just a political conversation, if you will, but in many ways a social conversation and that could ultimately change the political dynamic.

BLITZER: Carlos Watson giving us some assessment of this contentious issue. Thank you very much.

A killer quake. Hundreds of people dead. The injured now being airlifted out. We'll have a live report from Morocco. Banning same- sex marriages. The president speaks out. We'll hear reaction from both sides.

And the al Qaeda terror threat, why are we so vulnerable? I'll ask two lawmakers who know the inside story, both members of the Senate intelligence committee.


BLITZER: As U.S. troops prepare for a spring offensive in Afghanistan, a key ally is already attacking al Qaeda targets nearby. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in the neighborhood. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is traveling with him and filed this report from the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During a visit to Uzbekistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took the unusual step of openly acknowledging recent moves by the Pakistani military against al Qaeda in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They have been aggressively working with the tribal leadership in the regions.

STARR: This as the Pakistani government says its latest raids by helicopter and artillery troops have led to the capture of 25 al Qaeda suspects including Arabs. Rumsfeld is keenly aware all of this is putting Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in the hot seat. Tribal elders getting intense pressure to stop sheltering top al Qaeda leaders, even some tribal homes have been destroyed. One of those al Qaeda leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaced in a tape recording CNN believes to be authentic, challenging the Bush administration's claims that two-thirds of senior al Qaeda leadership has either been captured or killed. Rumsfeld held firm.

RUMSFELD: President Bush never said that the United States and the coalition have captured or killed two-thirds of al Qaeda. He said correctly that the United States and the coalition have captured or killed some two-thirds of the senior al Qaeda leadership.

STARR (on camera): Here in Uzbekistan there are hundreds of U.S. troops quietly supporting the war against al Qaeda. There are now growing indications that the coming spring offensive against the terrorist group will be a busy one. Barbara Starr, CNN, Tashkent.


BLITZER: Bird ban. The European Union halts all poultry imports from the United States. A significant potential source of revenue. Find out why.

And marriage vows, President Bush pushes to ban same-sex couples from tying the knot. We'll debate this hot-button issue coming up.


BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. Still not safe. The heads of the CIA and the FBI speaking out about the biggest threats to the United States' security. We'll get to that. First, a quick check of the latest headlines.

In a Manhattan courtroom, Martha Stewart's former stockbroker and co-defendant Peter Bacanovic will not testify in his own defense. And his lawyers say they could rest their case as early as today. When Bacanovic's defense team rests, Stewart's defense will start presenting its case. Stewart and Bacanovic are charged with criminal conspiracy in the sale of Imclone stock before it plunged in value. Stewart also is accused of securities fraud. The 9/11 commission is looking into information provided to American intelligence agents by German authorities two years before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. The information concerns one of the 19 hijackers. He's identified as Marwin al-Shehhi who flew a jetliner into the south tower of the World Trade Center. His first name and a phone number apparently were given to American investigators. The 9/11 commission wants to find out how the information was handled.

Back to the latest developments in Haiti. CNN's Lucia Newman is right now in St. Mark in Haiti. She's joining us on the phone. Lucia, a deadline this hour has come and gone. What's the latest?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf but first let me tell you. I am in St. Mark, it's about 2 1/2 hours to the north of Port-Au-Prince, the last important city between the rebel-held north and the capital. And that's why the people here have completely blockaded the main highway virtually separating this part of the country from the rebel-held north, the rebels will have to come through here to attack the capital, Wolf.

Now the last-ditch diplomatic effort to seek a political solution with the opposition is going nowhere, Wolf. In fact, the deadline ended just 20 minutes ago. The opposition didn't answer specifically, they just said they were going present a counterproposal tomorrow morning which is tantamount, Wolf, to a no. In the meantime, President Aristide has appealed to the international community to help him prop up his weak defense forces to avoid what he calls an inevitable bloodbath -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's also warning, Lucia, of boat people. Haitians taking to the seas to try to reach the United States. What specifically did he say?

NEWMAN: Absolutely. He made a veiled reference to that. He said that he was urging Haitians not to leave the country so they could stay behind and vote in an election sometime in the near future. That reference to leaving the country very obviously referred to a possible exodus of Haitians towards the United States as happened back in the 90s when the military was in power here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lucia Newman on the scene for us in Haiti. Lucia, thank you very much for that. Let's move on.

Al Qaeda, it can still inflict terrible harm on Americans and there's no end in sight to this terror threat. That grim warning came during chilling testimony today by the directors of both the CIA and the FBI, as well as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

For details, let's turn now to our national security correspondent David Ensor -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on a day when another threatening audiotape from al Qaeda was made public, a stark assessment from the nation's intelligence chiefs of the continuing terrorist threat.


GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: Even catastrophic attacks on the scale of 9/11 remain within al Qaeda's reach. Make no mistake, these plots are hatched abroad, but they target U.S. soil and those of our allies.

ENSOR: Tenet said Osama bin Laden's group is still trying to attack with poison, chemical, biological nuclear or a dirty bomb and said, even if bin Laden himself is killed or captured, the danger will remain for the foreseeable future.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the terrorists' potential targets are varied.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Our transportation systems across the country, particularly subways, bridges and major cities, as well as the airlines, have been a continual focus of al Qaeda targeting.

ENSOR: Several senators had pointed questions about why U.S. intelligence said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war, when none have been found.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: How can you build a policy of preemption on intelligence if we were so wrong in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq?

TENET: We're not perfect, but we're pretty damn good at what we do. And we care as much as you do about Iraq and whether we were right or wrong. And we're going to work through it in a way where we tell the truth as to whether we were right or wrong.


ENSOR: Tenet said the CIA-led team in Iraq looking for weapons is still getting new leads to follow up on. He may get a more intense grilling, Wolf, on the WMD shortfall on Thursday , when the Senate Armed Services Committee will take it up.

BLITZER: All right, David Ensor, thanks very much. And we'll be speaking shortly with two key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's coming up.

Straight ahead, though, we'll hear not only from those members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. We'll also pick up important news, including the vow to stop the mass matrimony, that vow coming from President Bush, threatening action against same-sex marriage. Coming up, I'll speak with the Reverend Jerry Falwell. He'll debate the gay rights advocate Elizabeth Birch.

A desperate search after a deadly quake, hundreds dead in Morocco with fears of hundreds of casualties.

And they're dancing and singing in the streets, the climax of Carnival celebrations. We'll have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Why does al Qaeda still pose such a grave threat to Americans?

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, two key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the vice chairman, Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Senator Rockefeller, first to you.

Why does al Qaeda still represent, long after 9/11, such a serious threat?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Because it's changing. It's not in the same form that it used to. It used to be top-down and large and Afghan-trained IN their jihadist training camps. And now it's kind of split up all over the world, still has enormous resources, enormous calling power upon militant who are unhappy in various parts of the world. Al Qaeda is very much with us, just in a different form.

BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, were you surprised to hear Director Tenet of the CIA say today that al Qaeda is still capable of launching a strike along the lines the magnitude of 9/11?


Obviously, we get intelligence on a regular basis. And I think Jay and I would agree that we remain very, very concerned about the ability of al Qaeda to carry out a massive attack. One reason that we saw the interruption of flights over the holidays is just because we had some information that indicated something might be going on. We're going to have to live with that for a long time to come, Wolf, because they do have the ability to carry out a massive attack again.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, Senator Rockefeller, are they making progress in trying to find Osama bin Laden?

ROCKEFELLER: Based upon what I know, they are, but they don't have him.

And I've heard that question asked so many times, and it's always answered with, we're trying and we're getting more sophisticated, but we never do. So I've kind of adopted -- I expect that Saxby Chambliss, too -- the idea that, until we get him, we don't have him.

BLITZER: What's your thought on that, Senator Chambliss?

CHAMBLISS: Yes, you know, we kept tightening the noose on Saddam Hussein. And we walked by him a couple times before we got him.

And we know generally the area -- I'd say it's fairly commonly known where he might be, but it's a very rough area, a lot of hiding places, and it's a large area, so we could be walking by him today and not know it, but eventually we're going to get him. Our intelligence is getting better. And we're involving some people that have not been involved before, so I feel pretty good about the fact that we're closing in. But Jay's right. We could still be a long ways away from getting him.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed Reuel Gerecht, Senator Rockefeller, a former CIA case officer in that part of the world. He suggested the U.S. intelligence is almost completely dependent on not only Afghan, but Pakistani military and intelligence sources for information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Is he right?

ROCKEFELLER: That's not all wrong, to the extent that he's right. And he is partly right.

A lot of the al Qaeda folks that have been taken down, major, major leaders over the past year and a half, have come because of the cooperation of the Pakistanis, their intelligence services and others. So there's nothing wrong with that statement. It doesn't have to be us. It has to be whoever is capable of best doing it. And the Pakistanis know that -- those frontier areas best. We work with them where we can, but they've done a marvelous job.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied, Senator Chambliss, with what President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is doing to help the U.S. in this war on terror?

CHAMBLISS: Well, he is certainly more engaged now than he was maybe six months ago. And for whatever reason, I do think he's -- it's more of a pressing issue with him that he cooperate to a great extent, particularly for the hunt for bin Laden.

And Jay's right. And the real problem we have, Wolf, is, it's hard to dress up Jay Rockefeller or Saxby Chambliss and put us in to infiltrate the al Qaeda organization in Pakistan or Afghanistan or wherever bin Laden may be. But we are having to depend on locals to be used to infiltrate that organization to provide us with the real intelligence about location, about plans that may be going on for attacks.

And while we don't like to think that that's where we have to get our information, as a practical matter, we know that is what we have to do.


ROCKEFELLER: It does not mean that we don't know what's going on, that we Americans don't.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, I want to get your thought. The CIA today suggested that this latest tape from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden's deputy, is in fact authentic, probably authentic, I think the CIA spokesman suggested.

It was very chilling, reacting specifically to words the president said in his State of the Union address. What do you make of this latest audiotape?

ROCKEFELLER: I think that, over the years now, bin Laden and his surrogates have made a practice of picking out psychologically key moments, strategic moments, tactically smart moments, to put forward messages to try to destabilize us, to make us worried, and secondly to encourage their own people. I think today was another example of that.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Senator Chambliss, as usual, thanks to both you for joining us on a very busy day here in Washington.


BLITZER: Defining moment.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.


BLITZER: Will there be a national ban on gay marriage? We'll get reaction from the Reverend Jerry Falwell and a supporter of gay and lesbian rights, Elizabeth Birch. They're ready to debate.

We'll get to that. First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): Bird flu ban. The European Union is banning live chickens and eggs from the United States, after a strain of bird flu is discovered in the U.S. The ban is in place for at least a month. A highly infectious and fatal form of the virus was discovered yesterday in a flock of chickens in Texas. This strain is considered a low threat to humans.

Russian resignations. President Vladimir Putin has dismissed his prime minister and entire Cabinet more than two weeks ahead of schedule. The move comes as Russian voters prepare for presidential elections in mid-March. Mr. Putin is heavily favored to win reelection. Russia's Constitution calls for the prime minister and Cabinet to resign as soon as a president is elected. But Mr. Putin says voters should know who would run his new government before they go to the polls.

Nuclear negotiations. Talks aimed at prodding North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program resume tomorrow in China's capital. The six-nation talks include representatives from both North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. The group held its first summit in August.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: We're now getting fresh details, a horrible disaster unfolding in Morocco right now. A major earthquake struck the North African country earlier today, killing hundreds of people, the death toll expected to rise. The 6.5-magnitude quake struck rural areas near the Mediterranean Sea. We'll get a live report later. That's coming up later.

Let's move now to our top story, President Bush backing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

To get some analysis and debate on this important issue, joining us, two guests here in Washington, Elizabeth Birch. She's the former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization. And joining us from Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the founder and chancellor of Liberty University.

Reverend Falwell, Elizabeth Birch has been in a loving relationship with a partner now for several years. They have twins. Why shouldn't they be allowed to get married?

JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Because, in a civilized culture that is Judeo-Christian and in a country where most of the people are people of faith -- for example, I'm a Christian who takes the Bible seriously. I believe it's the word of God.

The scripture is very clear that a family -- a wedding, a marriage can only involve a man and a woman. It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. And throughout Old and New Testament teachings, it is all the same, 6,000 years of recorded history. And for -- you can't make laws to stop people committing adultery or living in a homosexual lifestyle.

But you certainly can't sanction it and bless it from the perspective of the state. We have a family to preserve. And a family is not a family unless it's a man and a woman legally married.

BLITZER: All right, Elizabeth, you want to respond to that?

ELIZABETH BIRCH, DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Well, I completely disagree with Reverend Falwell, as I always do.

But I will say this, that amending the U.S. Constitution is an extreme and unwise and I think really uncompassionate move. And the proposal by President Bush to me is shocking and astounding and I think has caused a lot of tearful reactions and angry reactions around the country.

The fact is, is that, if President Bush really wanted to act with love and compassion and wisdom, he would take this very controversial, dividing issue and take it out of the 2000 election. Put it off until after the 2000 election. We do not have a national emergency. We won't know the results in Massachusetts until 2006. A constitutional amendment will take years to play out.

It's clear that this is a football that is -- he's using to kick off his 2004 campaign, frankly, to divert the American people's attention from nearly 600 dead in Iraq, $200 billion to be spent in Iraq, an economy that is not producing jobs.

BLITZER: Let's let the Reverend Falwell respond.

Go ahead, Reverend Falwell.

FALWELL: Well, look, first of all, Mr. Bush did not make this a 2004 issue. The Massachusetts Supreme Court did, the San Francisco mayor, the New Mexico officials, etcetera. This was made an issue when the Supreme Court gave constitutional protection to sodomy.

So here we have now same-sex marriage. What's next, polygamy?

BIRCH: Wait a minute.


FALWELL: Let me finish. Why not? And why not bestiality? Why not group relationships?

The fact is that, in this Judeo-Christian nation -- and a vast majority, 75 percent, oppose same-sex marriage -- in this Judeo- Christian land where we believe the Bible is the word of God, it is just unreasonable to expect that the people would sanction same-sex marriage.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Elizabeth.

BIRCH: Well, just -- I anyway want to encourage Reverend Falwell to go much deeper into biblical scholarship. You would think he would actually read the scriptures much more carefully.


BIRCH: But the fact is, is that he obviously did not read Lawrence vs. Texas.

Sodomy is not an issue in this country at this time any longer. What we're really talking about is, how does a civilized society treat adult loving couples, people that do form families? And are they entitled to the same civil treatment? That is a license. That is a license.


BLITZER: Do you support same-sex civil unions, Reverend Falwell?

FALWELL: No, I don't support them. I don't know how you could possibly outlaw them, any more than you could outlaw adultery or thievery or whatever. If people are going to live immoral lives, they'll live them. But we shouldn't bless them.


BLITZER: Without calling it marriage, should they have the same basic rights of inheritance and visitation and adoption as married people?

FALWELL: See, I think that all you have to do is make a will in this country. You can leave your estate to your dog if you want to. This is all a red herring.

BIRCH: This is all ridiculous.

FALWELL: The fact is that our heavenly father, when Sodom and Gomorrah decided to be an immoral homosexual community, God did not give them very much blessing when he destroyed them. And God is angry with our nation in even tolerating the thought of same-sex marriage.


BIRCH: Look, just to be clear, the problem in Sodom and Gomorrah was the failure to extend hospitality in the middle of a desert, which many of our American soldiers can tell you about.

FALWELL: What passage did you read that in?

BIRCH: But the fact is, is that, right now, the notion of two people coming together in a loving, stable relationship, where all they want is a license to care for each other and their children is not a national emergency.


BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on.


BIRCH: And what is a national emergency is the fact that we have an economy that is not producing jobs. We have American dead dying. And if the president was sincere and if Reverend Falwell was sincere


BLITZER: I want Reverend Falwell to respond to what Vice President Dick Cheney said in the presidential debate, the vice presidential debate, against Joe Lieberman four years ago, October 2000, when asked about the sensitive issue of gay marriage. Listen to this.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions. And that's appropriate. I don't think there necessarily should be a federal policy in this area.


BLITZER: You disagree, clearly, with what the vice president said then.


FALWELL: I love and respect Dick Cheney, and I'll vote for him in November if he's on the ticket. I understand where he's coming from, and I don't want to even comment on it.

But I do want to say this, that, in this culture, if we're going to say a loving relationship should have constitutional protection, what about a man wanting 10 wives? Polygamy is outrageous. What about an adult man, NAMBLA, North American Man/Boy Love Association, wanting a little boy? A loving relationship is not enough.

That would mean a mother and son could marry. It's got to be more than that. There's got to be a legal and a theological basis. And God gave the plumbing. Anybody who knows plumbing knows God didn't make men with men, women with women. God made it so it doesn't work any other way.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, even the Democratic candidates, Kerry and Edwards, say they oppose gay marriage, although they favor same-sex civil unions and they oppose an amendment to the Constitution.


BLITZER: Do you have a problem with the Democratic political leadership on this issue?

BIRCH: Of course I do, Wolf, but here's the point.

President Bush, John Kerry and John Edwards all agree on this. So why are we talking about this in a presidential year? It's because it's being used as a cheap political shot to really ignite the right wing, all of Jerry Falwell's followers, in an election year.


BLITZER: The right wing didn't force Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco to go ahead and give 3,000 marriage licenses in the past two weeks.


BIRCH: Well, Wolf, what did force that, frankly, is the fact that the Congress, the federal government has been silent for 30 years, not even issuing basic, basic employment protection.

When you get silence and nonaction for that long, what you are going to get is people saying: I know what's right. My neighbors know what is right. And we know that the San Francisco licenses are going to come under a lot of pressure, but we also know Massachusetts will not be decided until 2006. We know a constitutional amendment won't be decided for at least seven years.


BIRCH: And let me say this. If President Bush was sincere, he'd propose an amendment to ban divorce. That would help marriage.

BLITZER: All right, unfortunately, we are going to leave it right there. Elizabeth Birch, Jerry Falwell, as usual, this debate will continue. Thank you very much.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll get the results of our "Web Question of the Day."

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Horrible earthquake in Morocco earlier.

CNN's Al Goodman is on the scene for us. He's joining us now live.

Al, what's the latest?

AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've just arrived here at Al-Hoceima, which is one of the towns hardest hit. It's a Mediterranean port in northern Morocco.

Now, we've been driving across northern Morocco. We've seen some of the damage. But we've gotten an indication of just how bad it is, because, here at nightfall, there are hundreds of people that we have seen, perhaps thousands, across this area who are sleeping outside in their cars, in tents, eating dinner outside, all an indication that it's still not safe to go inside.

Now, here at the airport, which is where I am, at Al-Hoceima, this is the nerve center, Wolf, of the rescue and relief operation. Much of the aid that has come up from the Moroccan capital, Rabat, has come here. We've seen stacks and stacks of blankets that have been distributed. And France is expected to send in some search-and-rescue teams in the coming hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Al Goodman on the scene for us -- thanks, Al, very much, a heart-wrenching story.

Let's check in to see how you're voting on our "Web Question of the Day": Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban same-sex marriages? Look at this: 43 percent say yes; 57 percent say no. This is not a scientific poll.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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