President Calls for Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage

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President Calls for Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage


By: George W. Bush

Date: February 24, 2004

Source: Bush, George W. "President Calls for Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage." Speech delivered in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., February 24, 2004. Available at: 〈〉 (accessed February 15, 2006).

About the Author: George W. Bush is the forty-third president of the United States.


In the early 1990s, homosexual couples in America began gaining rights held previously only by heterosexual, married couples. Domestic partner benefits, designed to aid unmarried couples who wanted to access a partner's health or life insurance benefits through employers, were used by same-sex couples in increasing numbers throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court, in the case of Baehr vs. Levin, placed the burden on the state to show a compelling reason for prohibiting same-sex marriage. Gay marriage opponents in the United States, including Christian conservatives and groups such as Focus on the Family, claim that same-sex marriage would threaten traditional, heterosexual marriage by changing the definition of marriage, and opening the institution to court challenges for polygamy and other nontraditional couplings.

The Hawaii Supreme Court's decision concerned lawmakers in other states, for if Hawaii legalized gay marriage, the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution could, theoretically, have forced other states to accept as valid the marriages performed in Hawaii. This reciprocity had extended for traditional heterosexual marriages.

The Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, defined marriage as a union between "one man and one woman." The bill, signed by President William J. Clinton on September 21, 1996, was part of a drive by Republican members of Congress and religious conservatives to use policy to maintain traditional heterosexual marriage. The act allowed any state to deny recognition to any marriage from another state that involves a same-sex couple and also allows states to deny recognition of marriages that do not involve "one man and one woman."

In 1999, Vermont became the first state in the United States to offer same-sex partners a civil union—a legally binding ceremony that carried most of the rights of marriage. In the Vermont state Supreme Court decision Baker v. Vermont, the court compelled the state legislature to grant same-sex cou-ples the same rights afforded married heterosexual couples. The result, civil unions, was signed into law by Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. In the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the state's constitution. Effective May 17, 2004, same-sex couples were permitted full marriage rights in Massachusetts.

Canada made civil marriage of any two persons, to the exclusion of all others, legal in July 2005. These actions caused a flurry of activity on the part of same-sex marriage opponents. Representative Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican from Colorado, introduced a "Federal Marriage Amendment" that would take the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act and turn it into an amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, reworded and submitted in 2004 shortly after the city of San Francisco began illegally offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples, gained support from conservative groups such as the Alliance for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.

Gay marriage became an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign, and President George W. Bush campaigned on a promise to maintain marriage as a heterosexual institution. In this speech, President Bush outlines his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment.


Remarks by the President

The Roosevelt Room

10:43 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Eight years ago, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for purposes of federal law as the legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

The Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342 to 67, and the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14. Those congressional votes and the passage of similar defensive marriage laws in 38 states express an overwhelming consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage.

In recent months, however, some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage. In Massachusetts, four judges on the highest court have indicated they will order the issuance of marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender in May of this year. In San Francisco, city officials have issued thousands of marriage licenses to people of the same gender, contrary to the California family code. That code, which clearly defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of California. A county in New Mexico has also issued marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender. And unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.

After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization. Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity.

On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse. If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.

The Constitution says that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts and records and judicial proceedings of every other state. Those who want to change the meaning of marriage will claim that this provision requires all states and cities to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in America. Congress attempted to address this problem in the Defense of Marriage Act, by declaring that no state must accept another state's definition of marriage. My administration will vigorously defend this act of Congress.

Yet there is no assurance that the Defense of Marriage Act will not, itself, be struck down by activist courts. In that event, every state would be forced to recognize any relationship that judges in Boston or officials in San Francisco choose to call a marriage. Furthermore, even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld, the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.

For all these reasons, the Defense of Marriage requires a constitutional amendment. An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process has addressed many serious matters of national concern. And the preservation of marriage rises to this level of national importance. The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honoring—honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.

Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and 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 a union of 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 manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and goodwill and decency.

Thank you very much.

END 10:48 A.M. EST


On February 12, 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco permitted city hall to issue and recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Nearly 4,000 couples were married before the California Supreme Court ruled in August 2004 that the mayor had overstepped his authority. All same-sex marriages were declared invalid and annulled. In New Mexico and Oregon, similar events took place. Based on the San Francisco events and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling, same-sex marriage activists throughout the United States began to bring lawsuits through the court system requesting equal rights.

In response, same-sex marriage opponents pushed for the constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between "one man and one woman." On July 14, 2004, the U.S. Senate voted fifty to forty-eight to close debate on the issue. A sixty vote majority would have been needed to pass the amendment. The two senators abstaining were John Kerry and John Edwards, who did not want to vote on an issue that was so contentious during the 2004 presidential election. Both men at the time were running for the Democratic nomination for the presidential election. In the House of Representatives, a vote took place on September 30, 2004; the vote was 227-186, sixty-three votes shy of the 290 required for a two-thirds majority.

President Bush's speech was viewed by his advisors as a political necessity; as much as thirty percent of his support base was comprised of conservative Christian voters who viewed same-sex marriage as a threat to traditional Christian values and morality. By addressing what he termed "activist judges" and "activist courts", Bush used buzzwords that opponents of same-sex marriage had used in airing concerns that the courts—and not legislatures—were setting policy. Laws, such as the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment, were designed, from the viewpoint of same-sex marriage opponents, to prevent judicial rulings from carrying the weight of law.

As of this writing, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and the state of Massachusetts in the United States legally permit gay marriage. Seventeen other countries (including certain states in the United States) offer civil unions or other rights to same-sex couples who choose to form a union that resembles marriage. South Africa will extend same-sex marriage legal protections to its citizens in December 2006.



Dobson, James. Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle. Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2004.

Gerstmann, Evan. Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


Adam, Barry D. "The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism: The 'Gay Marriage' Panic in the United States." Journal of the History of Sexuality 12 (April 2003): 259-276.

Web sites

National Organization for Women. "Same Sex Marriage is a Feminist Issue." 〈〉 (accessed February 15, 2006). "Calif. Judge Rejects Ban on Same-Sex Marriage." 〈〉 (accessed February 15, 2006). "Defense of Marriage Act." 〈〉 (accessed February 15, 2006).

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President Calls for Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage

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