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Friday, June 02, 2006

GOP Base Not Swayed by Bush's Stance on Gay Marriage



The campaign against gay marriage is scheduled to get the administration's special treatment on Monday — words from President Bush at the White House, an array of VIPs assembled to hear him, a bank of television cameras on hand to broadcast the proceedings.

Such marquee billing aims to confer the grandeur of the office on the push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But even before administration officials announced the event, some of the invitees, far from swooning at the honor, denounced it as a sham.

"I'm going to go and hear what he says, but we already know it is a ruse," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, which opposes gay marriage. "We're not buying it. We're going to go and watch the dog-and-pony show, (but) it's too little, too late."

Such comments have raised the prospect that the debate on gay marriage — designed to galvanize one of Bush's most important constituencies, social conservatives —could instead exacerbate the president's political headaches.


The White House gathering will serve as a prelude to the Senate debate next week on the proposed constitutional amendment.

Supporters acknowledge they have little hope of reaching the two-thirds threshold -- 67 votes -- the measure would need to pass in the 100-member Senate. Indeed, they likely will fail to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to shut off debate and force an up-or-down roll call tally on the proposal.

Two years ago, when Republicans brought the amendment to the floor less than four months before the 2004 presidential election, only 48 senators voted to end debate. The GOP gained Senate seats in the '04 election, but not enough to appreciably improve the chances of reaching the 60-vote mark.

Even if the measure were to pass the Senate — and then win a two-thirds majority in 435-member House, the arduous process for amending the Constitution could derail it. After clearing Congress, the proposal would require ratification by three-fourths of the 50 states to take effect.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., adhering to a pledge he made months ago, is bringing up the amendment for debate anyway. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill argue that even if its short-term prospects appear bleak, spotlighting its merits could lay the groundwork for eventual passage.

Democrats complain the real reason behind the push is to rally conservative activists in advance of this year's congressional elections.

"Our country faces great challenges: record high gas prices, skyrocketing health-care costs and an intractable war in Iraq," Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said. "Yet instead of addressing these issues, Sen. Frist has chosen to put the politics of division ahead of real progress by pushing for a debate on a divisive amendment that will write discrimination into the Constitution."

But if pleasing a key element of the Republican Party was the aim, the effort doesn't appear to be working.

"Social conservatives are disappointed that there hasn't been more action on the issues that were highlighted in the 2004 election," said Gary Glenn, head of the American Family Association of Michigan.He added: "Increasingly, social conservatives expect real action, not just politically timed attempts to motivate and organize the base."

Others complain that Bush, despite Monday's event, has not put the full heft of the presidency behind the bid to outlaw gay marriage.

"President Bush's position is actually quite good on many . . . life and family issues, but he needs to get out front on them," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote in a message to supporters last week. There is also dismay among some activists over the wording of the amendment.

At least two prominent social conservative groups -- Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition -- believe that the language contains a loophole that would create a right for gays to seek civil unions.

The amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, and others argue that the second sentence leaves open the option that gays and lesbians could enter unions other than marriage, and that's a deal breaker for them.

On its Web site, the Concerned Women of America says the group "does not support the Marriage Protection Amendment as currently worded because the second sentence is open to differing interpretations."

Other social conservative groups, notably the powerful Focus on the Family headed by Dr. James Dobson, support the amendment, despite what they consider flaws in it.

"We would prefer stronger language, but we're content with this language. It leaves the issue of civil unions to the states. We recognize that this is the best we're going to get at the federal level," said Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's director of public policy.

White House officials sidestepped questions about the issue for most of this week. On Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted that the president has been an active opponent of gay marriage since he announced his support for the constitutional amendment in 2004. And Snow dismissed criticism that the president had done little in the interim to make it a priority.

"I don't know how you define what a priority is," Snow said. "The president has made it clear what he wants. He would like to see the Senate pass" the amendment.

Republican strategists are unsure how much the gay marriage debate will help the beleaguered GOP in November's elections.

"There is a significant amount of disenchantment, but most of the disenchantment is on the economic side" of the administration's performance, said veteran Republican strategist Eddie Mahe.