Marriage Push Falls Short for Some
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
(Jan. 15) -- Some
major conservative Christian groups said yesterday that they were
pleased but not satisfied by a new White House initiative to promote
marriage, and they stepped up pressure on President Bush to champion
a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in his
State of the Union speech next week.
"This is like lobbing a snowball at a
forest fire," said Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women of
America, one of the largest conservative Christian advocacy groups.
"This administration is dancing dangerously around the issue of
The conservative Christians' insistence on an
amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage may put President Bush in a
political bind as he starts his re-election campaign, caught between
wooing potential swing voters and turning out his core evangelical
supporters. Some conservative strategists warn that pushing to amend
the Constitution to prohibit same-sex unions could turn off some
potential Republican voters like suburban women, who might find
excessive talk about the perils of same-sex marriage as intolerant,
mean-spirited or weirdly obsessive.
"I think there are a lot of people that
don't want to endorse a lifestyle contrary to their personal values,
but they want to be tolerant," said Ed Goeas, a Republican
pollster who is working with the Bush re-election campaign,
"and quite frankly they don't like being put in a position
where they look to be intolerant."
Mr. Goeas added: "The president hasn't
been hesitant at all in saying he thinks marriage is between a man
and a woman, period. Questioning whether you need a constitutional
amendment is another matter. Those are major actions."
Mr. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove,
citing polling data, has often said that he believed the failure of
four million conservative Christian voters to turn out in the 2000
presidential election almost kept President Bush out of the White
House. Projecting another close race this year, Mr. Rove has worked
hard to stay in regular contact with conservative Christian
A coalition of several prominent conservative
Christian political advocates from organizations like the Family
Research Council and the Southern Baptist Convention said it had
been urging Mr. Rove and others in the White House to persuade the
administration to embrace an amendment blocking same-sex marriage.
Some, including Concerned Women of American and the Family Research
Council, said they also hoped for an amendment to prohibit states
from recognizing same-sex civil unions.
In his only public statement on same-sex
marriage, President Bush left many evangelical leaders puzzled about
his intention. In a television interview last month, Mr. Bush said
he believed a marriage was "between a man and a woman" and
that he would support a constitutional amendment "if
necessary." But he also said that "whatever legal
arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long
as it's embraced by the state, or does start at the state
level," and he emphasized the need for tolerance.
Ms. Rios of Concerned Women of America said
Mr. Bush had implicitly endorsed gay unions. "It is the same as
saying the federal government doesn't want to weigh in on slavery,
but if the states want to call it chattel that is O.K.," Ms.
Several prominent evangelicals said their
concerns were not assuaged by a report that the White House was
planning a $1.5 billion initiative to promote marriage.
Gary L. Bauer, who ran on a
traditional-values platform in the Republican primaries in 2000 and
is now president of the conservative group American Values, said,
"If the White House puts this on the back burner or doesn't put
political capital into it, that would deeply demoralize a large
block of voters that they are expecting to turn out in
Several conservative Christians involved in
the push for an amendment said they saw the State of the Union
speech, when President Bush will lay out his agenda for the year, as
a pivotal test. "Time is running out but the clock is still
ticking," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research
Christian conservatives say they are puzzled
at the administration's hesitation because prohibiting same-sex
marriage appeared broadly popular, at least in the months since the
highest court in Massachusetts ruled that the state had to recognize
Opinion polls have shown more than 60 percent
support the idea that marriage should be restricted to a man and a
Other prominent conservatives, however, argue
that yes-or-no polls do not show how significant an issue might be
to a voter. "Because it is a new issue, we don't know how it is
going to affect votes cast for candidates," said Grover G.
Norquist, a conservative strategist and the chairman of Americans
for Tax Reform.
Mr. Norquist said some potential Republican
voters might be turned off by raising the issue to a constitutional
level, just as they were by too much talk of guns or abortions.
"Obsessions turn people off," he said.
There are also gay Republicans to consider.
About a million of them, or a quarter of the 4 percent of voters who
identify themselves as gay, turned out for President Bush in the
last election, Mr. Norquist said, citing polls of those who had cast
How Mr. Bush himself feels about the issue
personally is also unclear. Mr. Bush has made no secret of his own
born-again faith. But some gay Republicans say he appears far more
friendly to gays than previous Republican administrations. The
administration has invited leaders of two gay groups, the Log Cabin
Republicans and the Republican Unity Coalition, to the White House.
One of President Bush's longtime friends from
Texas, Charles Francis, now heads the Republican Unity Coalition. At
his inauguration, he sat near Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice
President Dick Cheney, and her female partner.
Ms. Cheney is now director of
vice-presidential operations in the Bush-Cheney re-election
In a debate in the 2000 campaign, Mr. Cheney
spoke sympathetically of same-sex civil unions. "It's really no
one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit
behavior in that regard," he said. Last week, however, Mr.
Cheney told The Denver Post that he would back any decision
President Bush made on the question of an amendment.