Marriage Counseling: After Pressure from Religious Right Allies, Bush Touts Federal Marriage Amendment

By Leaming, Jeremy | Church & State, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Marriage Counseling: After Pressure from Religious Right Allies, Bush Touts Federal Marriage Amendment


Leaming, Jeremy, Church & State


For Religious Right leaders, January was the best of limes and the worst of times.

Conservative religious forces had staunchly backed the re-election of President George W. Bush, and their man, a born-again Christian with a right-wing political agenda, was returning to the White House in triumph.

But the president's second inaugural festivities had barely wound down when reports surfaced in the media about a group of leading religious conservatives who were furious that Bush was seemingly ignoring a major part of their agenda.

These leaders were incensed over the president's incessant promotion of a controversial plan to overhaul the Social Security system and his lack of work on behalf of a Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), a constitutional revision that would ban gay marriage in America.

Days before his second inauguration, Bush, who aggressively courted the Religious Right vote, revealed to reporters his top priorities for his second term. The FMA was not on the list. Indeed, during the interview aboard Air Force One, Bush said "nothing will happen" anytime soon on the amendment for lack of support in the Senate.

Throughout 2004, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, TV preacher Jerry Falwell and a host of other Religious Right honchos, working in a coalition called the Arlington Group, led the drive for passage of anti-gay constitutional amendments. The Arlington group, not surprisingly, was ticked off at the president's comments aboard Air Force One and quickly fired off a letter to Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove. They bemoaned his comments and warned that if the president wanted their support with the controversial campaign to change the Social Security system, he had better get serious about ensuring passage of the FMA.

"We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the Jan. 18 letter stated. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage?"

The letter, which The New York Times revealed in a Jan. 25 article, continued, "When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings."

If Bush were to spend his political capital fighting for partial privatization of Social Security and expend none of his influence on pushing the marriage amendment, the Arlington Group maintained that outrage would be fostered in the "countless voters who stood with [Bush] just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of the issue."

During the president's in-air interview, he devoted a lot of his answers to the American-led war in Iraq and on the domestic front, he argued that Social Security is in crisis and needs a major overhaul. It took some prodding from reporters to get Bush to discuss the marriage amendment. The FMA, which stalled in the last Congress, would declare: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

When asked if he would "expend any political capital" to push for the amendment, Bush responded by noting that many in the Senate believed a federal statute called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, was enough to ensure that gay Americans could not be legally married. …

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