US President George W Bush yesterday called for support of the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage to be debated in the Senate from today.

The President, who had been tight lipped in recent months on the issue of same-sex marriage, announced last week he supports an amendment to the constitution, sticking firm to the belief than marriage is between a man and a woman, despite the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney and even the first lady have offered differing opinions.

“Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them,” Mr Bush said during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building yesterday, according to the Associated Press. “And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure.”

Criticising judges who have overturned state laws in direct opposition to the proposed amendment, Mr Bush said that traditional marriage is the cornerstone of a healthy society and the issue should be put “back where it belongs, In the hands of the American people.”

“Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges.”

Not that most political insiders think the American public will have the chance to decide in the near future. Recent reports indicate the amendment will have a difficult time passing either chamber with the two-thirds majority required to send it to the states.

An anonymous source tipped Newsweek last week that the latest move by the president to support the gay marriage amendment is simply one of political obligation.

The source, reported as a close friend of Mr Bush, told the news magazine: “I think it was purely political. I don’t think he gives a s**t about it. He never talks about this stuff.”

The issue of amending the constitution to exclude the possibility of gays and lesbians ever marrying in the traditional sense has its share of Republican support.

“Marriage between one man and one woman does a better job protecting children better than any other institution humankind has devised,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “As such, marriage as an institution should be protected, not redefined.”

While only one Democrat thus far has gone on record in support of the amendment, a handful of republicans have vowed to vote against the issue. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he will vote against the measure on the floor but allowed it to get there because he believes it will pay off for the GOP on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Democrats say the amendment is the latest in a long line of cowardly bows to the religious right and is in direct conflict to on of the GOP’s long-standing commitment to keeping big government out of state’s issues.

“A vote for this amendment is a vote for bigotry pure and simple,” Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, where the state Supreme Court legalised gay marriages in 2003, told the Associated Press.

Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian, has long said he believes the personal relationships of gays and lesbians should not be a political issue. Earlier this year, First Lady Laura Bush said she felt it was a mistake to make gay marriage a political issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly condemned President Bush for publicly supporting the proposal.

Both houses of Congress overwhelmingly rejected a similar Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, and the Senate is expected to consider the proposal on Wednesday.

“The Federal Marriage Amendment is neither compassionate nor conservative,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Lawmakers rightly rejected it in 2004, but election year politics and Republicans pandering to their base have resurrected this mean-spirited amendment. Congress must, and will, reject this anti-family proposal again. Discrimination has no place in America, and certainly not in our founding document.”

The Federal Marriage Amendment, offered by Senator Wayne Allard, would amend the Constitution to deny states the ability to define marriage themselves, mandating that marriage be only between one man and one woman, and would deny all benefits of marriage to all unmarried couples. It is identical to the proposed constitutional amendment that was considered, and rejected, by Congress in 2004.

If adopted, the amendment’s broad language would attack marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal protections for gay and lesbian American families. Similar state-level constitutional amendments have already been used to undermine important protections for gay and lesbian couples and their families, such as health insurance and other benefits.

Opposition to the amendment has come from a diverse crowd, including conservative sources: former Congressman Bob Barr, the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Senator John Danforth, columnist George Will, Senator John McCain, and others have all spoken out against the measure.

The Senate will likely vote on Wednesday on whether to invoke “cloture,” or limit debate, on the amendment. Even proponents of the measure agree that support for Federal Marriage Amendment falls short of even a simple 51-vote majority, far less than the 67 votes needed to amend the Constitution.

“President Bush underestimates the goodness of Americans by once again pushing divide and conquer politics;” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU lawyer. “Personal decisions on marriage and family should be made in each family’s house, not in the White House. America, and all Americans – deserve better from their president.”

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