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2004-02-25

Bush Backs Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

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Dilip Hiro, Longtime journalist and the author of 25 books including the newly published Secrets and Lies: Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Collapse of American Power in the Middle East (Nation Books). Other books include "Iraq and Iran After the Gulf Wars" and "Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm."

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We speak with Craig Dean, who initiated the Marriage Rights Movement when he filed the first modern-day lawsuit for same sex marriage in 1989 as well as the political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay Republican organization. [includes transcript]

President Bush announced Tuesday his support to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Bush’s comments came under intense attack from gay rights activists as well as many constitutional scholars. The announcement came on the heels of San Francisco’s decision to grant marriage licenses to more than 3,000 gay couples a Massachusetts court ruling that ordered the state to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses by mid-May.

A front-page article in the Washington Post says Bush had intended to sidestep the battle over constitutional marriage but couldn’t afford to do so after his conservative base had "grown restless over the budget deficit, government spending and his plan to liberalize immigration."

One unnamed Republican senator told the Post that this is "the last place Bush wanted to be. He should be coasting on being the war president and deliverer of tax cuts; instead, he has to take a divisive role on a contentious social issue that could undercut him as a compassionate conservative."

Democratic presidential frontrunners Senators John Kerry and John Edwards have both said that they’re for civil unions but against the Constitutional amendment as well as gay marriage. Dennis Kucinich has publicly supported gay marriage.

According to constitutional scholars, Prohibition marks the only other time the constitution was amended to curtail public freedoms.

Despite Bush’s highly publicized endorsement, passing an amendment to the Constitution is not easy. The amendment must win two-thirds support in both the Senate and the House and must be ratified by 38 states.

  • President Bush announcing his support for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage at the White House February 25, 2004.
  • Craig Dean, filed first modern-day lawsuit for same sex marriage in 1989 initiating the Marriage Rights Movement. He is speaking to us from his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
  • Mark Mead, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay Republican organization.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Wedding Bell blues, Fifth Dimension, here on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. President Bush yesterday backed an amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage. He made the announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing, protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as the union of a man and woman as husband and wife. The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures’ free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage. America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger. In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness, and goodwill, and decency.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush yesterday in the Roosevelt room of the white house announcing his backing for an amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage. He made the announcement following the recent weddings of more than 3,000 gay couples in San Francisco and the court ruling in Massachusetts that ordered the state to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses by mid-May. Democratic Presidential front-runners Senators John Kerry and Edwards have both said they’re for civil unions but against a Constitutional amendment as well as against gay marriage. The front page article in the "Washington Post" says Bush intended to sidestep such culture war battles but couldn’t afford to do so after his conservative base had, quote, "grown restless over the budget deficit, government spending and the plan to liberalize immigration". One unnamed republican senator told the "Washington post" that this is, quote,"the last place Bush wanted to be. He should be coasting on being the war President and deliverer of tax cuts. Instead, he has to take a divisive role on a contentious social issue that could undercut him as a compassionate conservative. The amendment is only the second in U.S. history other than Prohibition to curtail public freedoms. We go first to Mark Mead political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay Republican administration. Your response to the president’s announcement.

MARK MEAD: Hi, Amy. Good to be with you. You mentioned a moment ago that the President wants to be perceived as a compassionate conservative. That’s the type of campaign that he ran in 2000. We believe with this measure it will be impossible for him to claim that title. It is not compassionate or conservative. It’s not compassionate because this amendment would marginalize part of the American family, gay and lesbian families. It’s not conservative because we don’t believe that you use the Constitution as a political football on a transitory social issue like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Craig Dean is also with us. Craig Dean filed the first modern day lawsuit for same-sex marriage in 1989, initiating the Marriage Rights Movement speaking to us from his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. You didn’t have a lot of support from mainstream gay organizations, did you, when you started this?

CRAIG DEAN: Not at all, Amy. Gees, it was sort of dusted — dusting off an old idea. At that time people were doing — working for domestic partnership with sort of the political goal of the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Movement. People were having, you know, Holy Union Ceremonies by their religious pastors in the Metropolitan Community Church, another supporter of religious denominations. We were originally looking to have that done until one day I had — I saw a sign in downtown Washington, D.C., that said, "Help stamp out AIDS now, and kill off queers and junkies." I ended up in a lawsuit for denial of public accommodations, found out about the D.C. Human Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, instead of having the union ceremony, my partner and filed for a marriage license and that’s how everything started, just two guys who really didn’t know any better. And it was denied, and I went and complained, and ended up starting the Marriage Rights Movement about 14, 15 years ago. After that whole — we worked on the Hawaii case and then we started working with the Legal Defense Fund and the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At first, all of these organizations asked us to drop our lawsuit because they said that marriage isn’t something that we should be working for, we didn’t know if we wanted to be married anyway, we don’t know what the consensus is in the gay community, but we were like, well, we want to be married. So, that’s what really mattered, and through friends and co-workers in Washington, D.C., we put together a team of attorneys and historians and sociologists and started the lawsuit.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Mead, did you expect this to come to this point?

MARK MEAD: Ah —

AMY GOODMAN: And did you support George W. Bush in 2000?

MARK MEAD: We have been loyal Republicans and we have supported this war-time President through the war. We supported the tax cuts which have jumpstarted the economy. This is problematic for us because this affects our families. It is not conservative. We’re basically conservative Republicans. As I mentioned, we don’t think this is conservative. I hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, but I have to say that the influence of some handful of folks on the radical Right, who are pushing this — pushing this, because it’s a huge fund-raising vehicle for them, I think got to some of the political folks at the White House and they think that this is a way to placate them. I believe that it has opened up a can of worms that the President is going to regret, especially come election day in November.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are Log Cabin Republicans going to do?

MARK MEAD: Well, our — we — we will probably focus all of our efforts and measures on defeating the Federal Marriage Amendment. Actually, we will do that. This is — putting discrimination in the constitution, we just cannot stand for, so we’ll switch our focus to going state by state, if necessary, to defeat this amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: And Craig Dean, are you getting married?

CRAIG DEAN: Well, actually, my partner passed away in 1995 after our case had actually gone up into the D.C. Court of Appeals and we lost by a split 2-3 decision then. He passed away several months after that. We never actually did get married. But if you want an example of — if you want examples of families, they should have been there when — I stood by him until the end, and, you know, I cannot think of a better example of a loving, committed couple.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you each your views on the thousands of people who are getting married in San Francisco and the Massachusetts court decision. Mark Mead.

MARK MEAD: Well, it is a compelling and emotional video to watch that, and I can understand why people want to have their marriage recognized civilly in some fashion. Of course, we think they should. And we support that. The political side of me says this might not be the advance we want right now. But, you know, Civil Rights is never easy, and it’s sometimes messy, and there were folks who thought that Rosa Parks should have stayed in the back of the bus. It’s here and it’s now and it’s happening. I think we need to use those pictures to show America that it’s okay to be in a relationship that’s same-sex and we need to celebrate that diversity and encourage people to love and take care of each other. That’s a very conservative approach and a very valid and appropriate approach for conservatives and liberals to encourage people to take care of each other and love each other.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think of the "Dear Mary" campaign. This is the campaign of thousands of Gay Rights supporters posting open letters on the internet urging Mary Cheney, the vice president’s daughter, to speak out against amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In a piece in the "Washington Post" yesterday, it says that the campaign targets Cheney, who is 34 years old, because she’s openly gay and is running her father’s part of the Bush Cheney re-election campaign but has not taken a public position on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. Vice President Cheney said during the 2000 campaign, it should be up to the states to decide whether to recognize same-sex relationships, and that, quote, "I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy." In an interview published January 11 by the Denver Post, he indicated his position had not changed but said "the President is going to have to make a decision in terms of what Administration Policy is on this particular provision, and I will support whatever decision he makes." Your response.

MARK MEAD: Is that for me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

MARK MEAD: Well, Mary Cheney is not a public figure, although she is running the Vice Presidential operations for Bush-Cheney. I think our efforts should be directed towards the Vice President and President as opposed to his daughter. I fully understand what they’re doing. I understand the reason. I don’t know if it would be as effective as lobbying the President or Vice President. I would ask that question. I would like to know where Mary stands on it. I don’t know that targeted email campaigns are going to prompt an answer. I’m not sure that’s where we need to be at this moment in our cultural war. Frankly, the President only has a bully pulpit on the issue. He will never have a vote. I think because the process does not pass through the Oval Office and I think we should spend more time lobbying Senators specifically and stopping the Federal Marriage Amendment in its tracks. I think that would be for the greater good of the community.

AMY GOODMAN: Craig Dean, your response.

CRAIG DEAN: I would slightly disagree. I would say that Mary Cheney has decided to become a public figure by working in the political process. And certainly, it is okay for a private citizen to ask what her position is as a public figure. And you know, certainly there are other venues to go, but once again, our government is —- it’s not about denying private citizens the right to redress people who are making political decisions for them. I also think that we talked earlier about families. We talked about the conservative position. I have been dealing with this for years and years and years. My response is that, this is an issue that is about love. If there’s anything that anybody in this country can talk about, we as a Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Movement have fought to enter the military, have fought for protections in housing and have fought for discrimination protections in employment, but one issue that is going to affect everybody, one issue that everybody can relate into as human beings is who we love. Whether we put a label on ourselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transgender -—

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we have to leave it there, I want to thank you for being with us. Craig Dean has been with us, pioneer in the Same Sex Marriage Movement and Mark Mead with the Log Cabin Republicans. That does it for the show. Looking forward to seeing people in Binghamton tomorrow. I’m Amy Goodman, thanks for joining us.

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