July 31, 2003
Bush calls for ban on gay marriage, as new poll suggests growing
By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (ABP) President Bush joined the conservative chorus
calling for a legal restriction against gay marriage, while new polls
suggest public opinion may be turning in favor of such a limit.
Religious Right leaders are hailing those developments as a double
blow to the cause of gay rights. But gay-rights activists offer a
Bush said July 30 that his administration is "looking at the best
way" to protect marriage as an institution for heterosexuals only. "I
believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we
ought to codify that one way or the other, and we've got lawyers
looking at the best way to do that," Bush said in his first formal
press conference in months.
While noting he believes "in the sanctity of marriage," Bush
added "it's very important for our society to respect each
"On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to
compromise on an issue such as marriage," he said. "And that's really
where the issue is headed here in Washington, and that is the
definition of marriage."
Bush did no go so far as to endorse a proposed constitutional
amendment currently making its way through Congress, however. The
amendment would define marriage in strictly heterosexual terms and
would override state provisions recognizing same-sex marriage
or "civil unions" that offer most of the same benefits of marriage
while reserving the term itself for man-woman unions.
Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll released July 28 seems to show a
dramatic reversal in a long-standing trend toward greater public
acceptance of homosexuality.
While gay-rights supporters celebrated the June Supreme Court ruling
that overturned state laws against gay sex, conservative observers
say the new polling data show a backlash to the ruling from the
The Gallup poll of 1,006 adults, conducted in mid-July, revealed that
48 percent of Americans believe sexual relations between consenting
adults of the same gender should be legal, while 46 percent believe
it should be illegal. That is a dramatic turnaround from a Gallup
poll May 7, when 60 percent of respondents said gay sex should be
legal and only 35 percent said it should be illegal.
Another poll conducted earlier in July revealed a similar reversal.
The turnaround was also evident in support for legalizing "civil
unions," which would offer same-sex couples many of the benefits of
marriage without using the term "marriage" to refer to the union.
In May, equal numbers of respondents supported and opposed the idea --
at 49 percent each. But in a more recent poll, 57 percent of
respondents opposed legalizing gay civil unions, while only 40
percent supported the idea. That is the strongest opposition and the
weakest support in the seven Gallup polls taken on the subject since
"The new polling data suggest a backlash," said the Gallup
organization in a press release. "The discussion that followed the
Supreme Court [sodomy] decision focused in part on whether it would
increase the possibility of legalized gay marriage and other, more
formal, reductions of the distinction between heterosexual and
homosexual relations in society."
Connie Mackey, vice president for government affairs at the Family
Research Council, said the "slumbering majority" has remained quiet
as the gay-rights movement made gains in recent years, but she
added, "gay marriage is the line in the sand where people are waking
Glenn Stanton, a senior analyst for Focus on the Family, said "over-
reaching" by various courts has forced Americans to realize that
what "was once a pretty radical and 'out there' idea could really
Added Gary Bauer, president of American Values: "The more that the
[gay-rights] movement demands the endorsement of the law and the
culture, the more resistance there will be."
But gay-rights activists said they don't think the Gallup poll
represents a clear backlash.
"It just doesn't make sense," said Laura Montgomery Rutt, director of
communications for the religious gay-rights group Soulforce. She
pointed to a recent poll commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts
that showed a continued increase in support for gay marriage, even
though the poll was finished after the Supreme Court's sodomy
Chris Purdom, co-coordinator of the Philadelphia-based Interfaith
Working Group said, "I think the polling is all over the map on this"
because the Supreme Court decision, as well as other recent news
involving gay-rights issues, means people are being forced to
confront an issue about which they haven't made up their minds.
"I think that this is an issue that most people don't think about
very much because they don't think it affects them," he said, "so I
think they don't answer consistently."
James Esseks, litigation director for the American Civil Liberties
Union's Gay and Lesbian Rights Project, said one reason for the
change in numbers is "that people don't understand or have a clear
understanding of what gay marriage would mean."
For example, Esseks said, "I think some people think that somehow gay
marriage would intrude upon the church.
If a state recognizes
marriage between two people of the same sex, that would not in any
way require any religious institution to recognize it as well."
Echoing Bush's comments, White House press secretary Scott McClellan,
speaking to reporters July 31, also used the term "sanctity" and
other religious terms in describing marriage. Soulforce's Rutt said
such language is dangerous.
"Religion currently can discriminate against people based on their
sexual orientation or marital status.
They have that right,"
Rutt. "But our government is based on the Constitution, and marriage
is a civil contract between two people -- it shouldn't matter what
their gender or sexual orientation is.
"There needs to be a distinction between the religious ritual of
marriage and the civil right of marriage," Rutt concluded.