In a congressional election-year pitch to religious conservatives whose interests have been neglected in favor of far more pressing matters such as the war in Iraq, immigration, and the price of gasoline, President George W. Bush, in his weekly radio address, urged the Senate to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, asserting that it is needed to prevent what he refers to as “activist judges” from overturning state legislation against same-sex marriage.
The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages while leaving state legislatures free to make their own decisions about what — if any — legal accommodations, other than marriage, they will make for same-sex couples.
In order to become law, the proposed amendment needs two-thirds support in both the Senate and the House, after which it must be ratified by a minimum of 38 state legislatures.
In spite of the widespread belief that the amendment has the proverbial snowball’s chance of passing — even the bill’s sponsor, Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colorado), has acknowledged this political verisimilitude — the Senate nonetheless plans to debate the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage this week.
Democrats have said that the upcoming debate on this issue is a waste of Senate floor time, and is nothing more than a pre-midterm election appeal to social conservatives whose votes were essential to Mr. Bush’s re-election.
The Unappreciated Religious Right
Apparently Mr. Bush and several Congressional Republicans are beginning to take heed of recent threats from the religious right, hard-working political activists who, according to Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families, “[are] a major reason why the president is sitting in the Oval Office today.”
Mr. Bauer had issued an earlier warning that, if Mr. Bush doesn’t start crusading against same-sex marriage, “this is just going to be one more thing that keeps people at home on Election Day.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has also cautioned Mr. Bush, telling Fox News that the president faces “the very real potential of deflating what’s left of the GOP base. They deflated the fiscal conservatives, because of [the increases in] spending, and now they risk deflating the social conservatives by failing to act on our interests.”
Enter The Moderates
While Mr. Bush and several socially conservative Republican Senators have pushed for the marriage amendment, a number of other Republican voices have dissented.
Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and John Sununu (R-New Hampshire), oppose the amendment, saying that marriage is a matter that is best left to the states. Several other Republican Senators are also against the measure. Meanwhile, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is the only Democrat who has said that he will vote for the amendment.
First Lady Laura Bush, in an interview on Fox News, advised against politicizing the issue, “I don’t think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously,” she said. “It requires a lot of sensitivity to just talk about the issue — a lot of sensitivity.”
Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, said, on CNN, that “writing discrimination into the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong.”
The vice president spelled out his position on the subject in August of 2004, “Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue that our family is very familiar with. … With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free — ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.”
However, likely being mindful that the November 2004 presidential election had not yet taken place, Mr. Cheney added, “At this point … my own preference is as I’ve stated. But the president makes basic policy for the administration. And he’s made it. ”
Not only are the religious conservatives feeling neglected, moderate Republicans are also feeling somewhat alienated. A number of Republicans from both factions are troubled and confused by the Party’s mixed messages on the subject of same-sex marriage.
These fractures within the GOP have caused a disconcerting paradox for several vulnerable Republican incumbents whose political balancing acts will be judged at the polls this November. If they push hard on issues like the Federal Marriage Amendment, religious conservatives will likely respond favorably, but moderates who favor small government and states’ rights will be turned off.
Republican Party strategist Craig Shirley suggests that, “There is a fear, among some in the party, that the Republicans are being identified too much as a theological party.”
According to GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, half of today’s Republicans are “theocrats” who believe government should “promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage.” And the other half wants less government intrusion into the personal lives of the people.
Mr. Fabrizio says, “We can’t afford to alienate moderate voters any more than they are already alienated… . Issues have a shelf life. Gay marriage passed everywhere [on state ballots] in 2004, but today, a lot of people look at that issue and think, ‘It is so over and done.’ Our party base is already fracturing, and if we emphasize gay marriage now, it would create new divisions.”
What The Polls Say
Recent polls show that there is far less support for amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage than there was in 2004. According to a March 22, 2006 report by Pew Research Center, 51% currently oppose the civil recognition of same-sex marriages, which is a dramatic change from the 63% who were against it in 2004. Two years ago, 59% of Republicans strongly opposed same-sex marriage, while only 41% take that position now.
Likewise, the percentage who are in favor of same-sex marriage has increased greatly from 29% in 2004 to 39% today. In June of 1996, just 27% favored legalizing same-sex marriage. Support grew to 35% in March of 2001, and increased to 38% in the summer of 2003.
That widening support fell away in February 2004, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized homosexuals’ right to marriage. The subsequent debates over that historic decision sparked a temporary resurgence in opposition, which did not last long after the 2004 election.
A national debate on same-sex marriage could potentially cause a backlash against socially conservative Republicans, who may be perceived as giving priority to an issue moderates find unimportant when contrasted with serious matters like the war in Iraq, immigration, and the price of gasoline. Same-sex marriage didn’t even make the top 20 in a recent Fox News poll of issues about which Americans are most concerned.
Furthermore, a study by a conservative-leaning research center, the American Enterprise Institute, observed that public opinion has become increasingly more accepting of homosexuality.
Pew Research has also found this to be the case. In addition to shifting public sentiment toward same-sex marriage, they report that 46% are in favor of allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children, up from 38% in 1999. And the American people support, by a wide margin of 60% to 32%, a policy that allows homosexuals to serve openly in the military.Powered by Sidelines