Bush Claims Mantle of Tolerance While Supporting Constitutional Requirement of Harmful Discrimination

President George W. Bush told ABC News interviewer Dianne Sawyer on December 16 that he would support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “if necessary” to “codify” that marriage is between a man and a woman, a position he said was not in conflict with being a “tolerant” or “understanding” person.

“It is not tolerant to support a constitutional amendment that would require states to discriminate against a particular group of committed couples and their families,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “President Bush is trying to have it both ways. But he cannot credibly claim tolerance while simultaneously expressing support for a constitutional amendment that has discrimination as its very purpose. He is using compassionate rhetoric to distract attention from the cruel consequences of his actions. Discrimination undermines families and hurts children. It is neither tolerant nor understanding, and it is certainly not necessary.”

Although President Bush had said earlier that he would support efforts to “codify” a definition limiting marriage to a man and a woman, he had not previously addressed the question of amending the Constitution. Neas called Bush’s embrace of a constitutional amendment “extremely disappointing and unfortunate.”

“Amending the U.S. Constitution for the first time to target one group of Americans for discrimination would betray our history of progress toward full equality,” said Neas. “The Constitution is the guardian of American civil rights. It is simply no place for amendments that would deny basic legal protections to couples that have committed to care for each other and their families.”

In his interview, Bush used vague language suggesting that states could allow people to make “legal arrangements.” But, Neas noted, the Federal Marriage Amendment, which has been introduced in both houses of Congress, would actually go far beyond restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. It could, for example, force states to abandon progress already made in granting important legal protections to same-sex couples and their families in the areas of hospital visitation, health care, and parental rights.

“Right-wing politicians, pollsters, and pundits believe Bush can score political points on marriage,” said Neas. “And his comments make it clear that he is trying to position himself for maximum political advantage. But fair-minded Americans don’t believe in playing politics with people’s lives. Most Americans, including many conservatives, are opposed to a constitutional amendment on marriage. Denying partners and their children access to health care, the rights of inheritance, even the right to visit one another in the hospital, isn’t fair. I believe the American people will reject a constitutional amendment that denies their neighbors these fundamental rights.”

People For the American Way supports full legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans. The affiliated People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief in the Massachusetts case urging the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to uphold equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

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