Broadcast: February 28, 2004
This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.
President Bush this week urged Congress to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. He said this is needed to stop what he called activist judges and local officials who want to redefine marriage.
The president says all cultures and religions honor the union of a man and woman. He says changing this would weaken the influence of society.
Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. Then it requires approval by at least thirty-eight of the fifty states. All this can take years, if it succeeds at all.
Democratic opponents of an amendment say Mister Bush is trying to use the issue to help him win re-election. Not all Republicans support the idea of an amendment. Some say the issue should be decided by the states. But many conservatives had been urging Mister Bush to speak out on recent events.
In November, the top court in Massachusetts ruled that a state ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court ordered lawmakers to change the law so gays can marry. This has not happened yet. But the mayor of San Francisco recently began to permit homosexuals to marry at City Hall. California law bans same-sex marriage. The California attorney general is trying to defend that law by having the state Supreme Court rule on the actions in San Francisco.
More than three-thousand same-sex weddings have been performed in San Francisco during the past two weeks. On Friday the mayor of a small college town in New York state also began to let same-sex couples marry.
In Massachusetts, opponents tried to have gay marriages barred through an amendment to the state constitution. That effort failed, but it might be reconsidered in March. At least thirty-eight states have passed laws or amendments to bar recognition of gay marriages.
President Bush says a constitutional amendment is needed to defend the nineteen-ninety-six Defense of Marriage Act. That federal law declares that marriage in the United States is the legal union between a man and a woman. It also gives the states the right not to honor same-sex marriage permits from other states. President Bill Clinton signed it into law.
Public opinion research shows that most Americans oppose gay marriage. But the public appears more divided on the issue of what are called civil unions. Civil unions offer rights that are similar to those for husbands and wives. Vermont recognizes civil unions. A few other states also have laws that extend some rights to same-sex partners.
President Bush says he supports protections like civil unions for same-sex couples, but not marriage itself.
In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.