Leaders praise Bush marriage statement; say more is needed

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Bush neared the verge of endorsing a constitutional amendment protecting marriage but stopped short in his Jan. 20 State of the Union speech, leaving at least some pro-family advocates unsatisfied.

Near the close of his nearly hour-long address, the president said the United States must "value the institution of marriage." The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act "declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states," Bush said. "Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives.

"On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard," the president said. "If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage."

Those comments were good but did not go far enough in combating the drive to legalize homosexual "marriage," Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land said.

"Those of us who are pro-life, pro-family, pro-abstinence, pro-marriage, social conservatives should be grateful that we have a president who believes in and so strongly makes the case for our convictions in these areas," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "It must be said that we have not had an occupant of the White House in a long time who would make the case as forcefully as he has on issues such as opposition to same-sex 'marriage.'

"Having said that, I am disappointed, as I know many other social conservatives are, that the president did not take the final step and come out foursquare in support of a federal marriage amendment that would enshrine marriage in the United States as only between a man and a woman," Land said. "He made the case for the necessity of an amendment, and I am puzzled as to why he didn't then -- having diagnosed the problem -- prescribe the only remedy, a federal marriage amendment. I know that millions of social conservatives join me in hoping and praying that he does so in the very near future."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also desired more from Bush in his State of the Union address.

More than two months ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court "tossed a cultural time bomb into the public square" when it ruled a ban on same-sex "marriage" violated the state constitution, Perkins said in a written release. "Disappointingly, [the president] promised to help the families of America -- after the bomb goes off and the damage is done. Now is the time, before the court of Massachusetts imposes same-sex 'marriage' on America, to protect the sacred and irreplaceable institution of marriage."

Perkins added, "The families of America have consistently supported the president on both his foreign and domestic policies. They have stood with him in his efforts of homeland security, and now they want the president to focus on the security of the American home by protecting the institution of marriage."

Other pro-family leaders applauded Bush's comments without expressing disappointment.

"The president made a strong plea for the sanctity of marriage, directly confronting judicial activism -- the first time I've heard a president do that," Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson said in a "Breakpoint" commentary. "Make no mistake: The battle over marriage is shaping up as the Armageddon of the culture war. And the president is taking the lead, courageously saying the people will have to resort to the constitutional process. He's right."

Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson said he was "immensely encouraged by President Bush's unequivocal support for the sanctity of marriage. I applaud President Bush's recognition of the grave danger facing our nation -- and his courage to stand firm in support of a constitutional solution to judicial tyranny."

In his speech, Bush called on Americans to be respectful "as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization."

"The outcome of this debate is important -- and so is the way we conduct it," the president said. "The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight."

Before the State of the Union address, Bush had affirmed marriage as only between a man and a woman and said he would support an amendment if necessary. Some opponents of same-sex "marriage" had called on the president to endorse an amendment during his Jan. 20 address before a joint session of Congress and a national television audience.

The amendment now proposed in Congress is the Federal Marriage Amendment, House Joint Resolution 56 and Senate Joint Resolution 26. In addition to limiting marriage to "the union of a man and a woman," the FMA also would prevent federal and state constitutions and laws from being interpreted to mandate marriage or its benefits for homosexuals and other unmarried people.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., the chief House sponsor of the FMA, said after the speech that the president's remarks "coincide with what he has told me personally. An amendment is the one check the American people and their elected officials have to counter activist judges."

The proposed amendment states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, noted, "History undeniably proves that every culture around the world has held marriage as the union of one man and one woman -- not any other combination of partners. When that breaks down, so does the future of the family and the procreation of the next generation."

The movement to legitimize same-sex "marriage" gained significant ground in court decisions last year.

In June, the Supreme Court struck down a law against sodomy in Texas. Critics of the opinion said the reasoning in the court's ruling might open the door for other concessions to homosexual rights advocates. In November, Massachusetts' top court issued its ruling against a ban on homosexual "marriage" but stayed its decision 180 days to allow the state legislature to respond to the decision.

Social conservatives also welcomed Bush's comments on abstinence education and support for faith-based organizations.

Bush said his budget "will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases." He also proposed a grassroots effort to educate families about the medical risks of STDs.

Dobson praised Bush, saying, "Our children need to hear the life-giving message that abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage are the safest and most rewarding expressions of intimate love."

The president again called for Congress to pass legislation enabling faith-based groups to receive federal aid while maintaining their religious identity and being able to hire employees in accordance with their beliefs.

Reccord commended Bush's position on "nondiscrimination against faith-based groups for their contribution to ministering to the ills of our society."

"In this national culture that seems to increasingly pride itself concerning tolerance, it seems the one area in which many are becoming increasing intolerant is against the faith community -- especially the Christian community," Reccord said. "Yet, again history proves that some of the greatest institutions and guides addressing societies' ills were birthed in the faith community -- hospitals, orphanages, right to work laws, civil rights, child labor laws. Allowing the faith community to step forward and roll up its sleeves to address societies' difficulties will only benefit society, never detract from it."

Bush also called for professional sports leagues and teams to "get rid" of performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids. In addition, he proposed a four-year, $300 million re-entry initiative to help prisoners return to society, including a mentoring program that would include faith-based organizations.

The president used much of his speech to address the war on terrorism. He defended the campaign in Iraq, even though it lacked support from some countries.

"From the beginning, America has sought international support for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support," Bush said. "There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country."


Martin King contributed to this article. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: AUDIENCE'S APPLAUSE and MAINTAINING MARRIAGE.

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