TOPICS > Politics

President Calls for Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage

June 5, 2006 at 6:40 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL, NewsHour Correspondent: Over the weekend and again today, President Bush turned the nation’s attention to an issue that energizes many social conservatives: using the Constitution to ban same sex marriage.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: You are here because you strongly support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. And I am proud to stand with you.

GWEN IFILL: During his re-election campaign, the president pledged to push for such an amendment, a promise some of his supporters say he has made little effort to keep.

Today, Mr. bush said activist judges are undermining the will of the people in states that have acted on the issue.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Decisions about a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people.

GWEN IFILL: White House officials said that the president is speaking up now because the Senate is launching its own marriage debate.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: It’s about who is going to define marriage in America. It’s not whether marriage is going to be defined, it’s about who is going to define marriage in America.

GWEN IFILL: The amendment, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House and ratification by the states, would bar judges from granting same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, and it would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Today, advocates and opponents of the amendment held dueling protests and press conferences.

MATT DANIELS, Alliance for Marriage: Americans are committed to seeing our laws send a positive message about marriage to children, to their children and grandchildren.

They believe it’s common sense that marriage is a man and woman and they want that reinforced under our laws.

But as we stand here today, courts in nine states are actively seeking to strike down our marriage laws. Some of these court cases in New Jersey, New York and Washington state, are poised to lead to the end of marriage as we have known it in this country for hundreds of years.

LAWANA SLACK-MAYFIELD, Human Rights Campaign: And if you open a door to putting discrimination against gay people in the Constitution, what’s to say we won’t discriminate against another group down the line? Who will be next? Women? African-Americans?

This amendment is a cynical political ploy, and we won’t be bamboozled or lose focus on what’s truly important.

GWEN IFILL: The Senate has scheduled a vote on the amendment for Wednesday.

Politics vs. policy

Kellyanne Conway
The Polling Company
I'm not sure that this is a great political move for the president. I think it's based on policy.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats argued today that the timing of thislatest marriage debate is being driven by politics. Republicans say the debateis long overdue. Who's right?

For that, we turn to two pollsters who have been followingthe issue. Geoff Garin is the president of Peter Hart Research Associates -- hepolls mostly for Democrats; and Kellyanne Conway, CEO and president of thePolling Company, works mostly for Republicans.

Geoff Garin, is this a political debate we're seeing hereunfold or policy debate?

GEOFFREY GARIN, Peter Hart Research Associates: Well,ultimately, both I think the motivations are political, but the fact of thematter is Americans are not sitting at home tonight waiting with baited breathfor the Congress to take this up.

They think that there are lots of really important andpressing issues facing the country -- Iraq, the economy, gas prices -- and,frankly, when they hear about or read about the Senate debating this issue now,it confirms their worst views of the Senate, that it's all about politics, it'snot about getting real things done, it's not about taking on the priorities ofthe American people.

I think this ends up being a black eye for the Republicanleadership.

GWEN IFILL: Kellyanne Conway, if Geoff Garin is even alittle bit right, why now?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, The Polling Group: Well, if Geoff's right,then I don't know what he's afraid of. In other words, then I can see him andhis candidates using this against the president and his Republican Partymajority this fall in ads.

In other words, why were your priorities so askew?

I think what Geoff very wisely -- his party's fear is thatthey have to run Democratic candidates this year who also support traditionalmarriage, and that those people are going to have a very difficult time staringdown the folks at home who ultimately decide whether they keep their jobs.

Seventy-one percent of the people in the 19 states who havevoted on protecting traditional marriage have voted for protecting thetraditional marriage. So we know this is a very popular issue when put to thepeople.

And I must say that this move is actually fraught withtremendous political risks for the president, because there are at least threeconstituencies with whom he performed very well in 2004 -- Catholics, Hispanicsand women -- who are not necessarily so enthused about the issue.

Hispanics are a bit more enthused than Caucasians. AndAfrican-Americans, traditionally, are very against homosexual marriage indefense of regular marriage.

But there are constituencies like these women and theseindependents that President Bush performed well within 2004 -- he's not doingwell with them now in the polls -- who can very well be angry about this.

So, I'm not sure that this is a great political move for thepresident. I think it's based on policy.

Leave it up to the states

Geoffrey Garin
Peter Hart Research Associates
If you ask people, "Would you prefer to do this through the Constitution or leave it up to the states," a majority of Americans would prefer to leave it up to the states.

GWEN IFILL: But Geoff Garin, is it a move which is driven by-- or are these results you're seeing in people you talk to, people you poll,is it driven by people who think that marriage is threatened or people whothink that a constitutional amendment is a solution to that problem?

GEOFFREY GARIN: Well, really, I think that this is driven byinternal Republican politics, frankly, that the base of the Republican Party isunhappy right now. They think that the party is failing them on fiscalresponsibility, lots of conservative Republicans are as angry as everybody elseabout gas prices.

So I think this is really about trying to reassure the base,but this time, I think, doing it at some cost compared to two years ago orpreviously when the Republicans have brought this up. It seems more transparentto the American people, that this is really about politics.

And it comes at a moment when we're really dealing with --Americans feel we're dealing with really big things in the country, and theydon't think that we need a constitutional amendment to solve this problem tothe extent that it's a problem.

If you ask people, "Would you prefer to do this throughthe Constitution or leave it up to the states," a majority of Americanswould prefer to leave it up to the states.

And you know, in terms of the election, I'd like senatorslike Rick Santorum to say why this is so pressing right now that it's moreimportant than voting on the minimum wage or voting on taking back the taxbreaks for the oil companies or voting on a host of other things.

I think in a post-Terri Schiavo world, I think Americans aremuch more sensitive to this kind of intrusive politics by the Republican Party,and I think it's out of step with where people are at in terms of theirpriorities.

Not a rallying issue

Kellyanne Conway
The Polling Company
Even in states like Oregon, which was not a very politically contested state -- it went for John Kerry handily -- they passed defense of marriage.

GWEN IFILL: Kellyanne Conway, Matt Dowd, the president'spollster from 2004 and 2000 who's now working for Arnold Schwarzenegger in California was quoted inNewsweek this weekend as saying the idea that gay marriage amendments broughtpeople to the polls in these last couple of elections is an urban myth, that itactually doesn't stir up the base.

What's your response to that? What do you think?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:Well, he's correct in that you certainly had higher turnout in some of thestates, but the fact is that you have higher turnout in states where there ismore political activity. And as we all know, those are the swing states, theseven, eight key states -- when you really get down to it, three or fourtowards the end.

To the extent that the states also had marriage initiatives,it's tough to say it's causation or coincidence. But even in states like Oregon, which was not avery politically contested state -- it went for John Kerry handily -- theypassed defense of marriage.

Oregonwas a state in this country that passed the first assisted suicide law. Soyou're talking about some pretty loyal blue states defending marriage.

But Matt is correct on that, and even the polls today, Gwen,show that -- as Geoffrey has said -- even though a majority supportstraditional marriage as between one man and one woman, majorities oppose aconstitutional amendment as the correct prescription.

And even more importantly, especially among younger voters,they are not saying that a particular candidate's position on this issue isgoing to be wrought with any type of political currency.

That statistic actually breaks with senior voters. Votersaged in 55-plus say that they are more likely to vote for a candidate this fallbased on his or her issue on defense of marriage than not, but that's reallythe only age group where it see it spike.

What pushes people's buttons?

Geoffrey Garin
Peter Hart Research Associates
People know that this amendment has no chance of passing in the Congress. I mean, it won't even get a majority to proceed to the debate. And so it's just political gamesmanship.

GWEN IFILL: Well you both agree, Geoff Garin, that there'snot a clear political benefit necessarily in pushing for a constitutionalamendment.

But the president said several times in his remarks todaythat his goal was to get activist judges to get out of interfering with thewill of the people.

Is that something that presses buttons, talking about judgesreplacing their judgment for individuals?

GEOFFREY GARIN: It really doesn't -- or at least not rightnow.

That, you know, Kellyanne talked about all of the referendathat were held in the states -- people all across America feel that they havethe ability to deal with this problem in their state legislatures, in theirstate constitutions.

They don't really feel like they need Congress butting in inthese kinds of questions, and that if you go through a list of priorities --that is, when you talk about people's buttons, people's buttons are pushed bytrying to keep up with the cost of living and this terrible situation we havein Iraq and by what's happening with energy prices. And those are what matterto people.

They wish like crazy that Congress would deal with thosekinds of issues in a serious way.

People know that this amendment has no chance of passing inthe Congress. I mean, it won't even get a majority to proceed to the debate. Andso it's just political gamesmanship. It really is what has led so manyAmericans to be so disdainful of the current Congress, and it's why people arelooking for change.

GWEN IFILL: So, Kellyanne Conway, what is the point ofbringing this up if, indeed, it's not going to pass the House or the Senate,get the two-thirds vote that's necessary, if it is in some cases angering someof the president's conservative base who don't think he's gone far enough, whyhave this debate now at all?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:Well first of all, judicial activism is seen as a clear and present danger tomany conservatives inside and outside of the president's base. I would say thatis the one phrase that really connects the fiscal conservatives, the socialconservatives and moral conservatives.

And when you started to rip "God" out of thePledge of Allegiance, when there have been suggestions to take "God"out of our nation's currency, that's the kind of excessive overreach thatreally does bind many in the base together -- whereas there's disagreement onimmigration within the base, there's disagreement on spending within the base,there's disagreement on some of these other moral issues like abortion and stemcell research within the base.

This is the one phrase, judicial activism, that gets everybodyon their hind legs. And I will say that, because of judicial activism, the baseand the president have a pretty nice time of getting two of his moreconservative United States Supreme Court justices confirmed with very littleopposition, in Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

And much of that stems from the Republicans but really theconservative base being able to conduct themselves together, put aside thesedifferences from other major issues and rally behind these two nominees to thebench.

So this is the one theme -- not really an issue, Gwen, but atheme -- judicial activism, that does get the base moving.

GWEN IFILL: Well, we'll be watching for all of that.

Kellyanne Conway, Geoff Garin, thank you very much.