Bias in the Constitution
New York Times Editorial
February 25, 2004
With his re-election
campaign barely started and his conservative base already demanding
tribute, President Bush proposes to radically rewrite the Constitution.
The amendment he announced support for yesterday could not only
keep gay couples from marrying, as he maintains, but could also
threaten the basic legal protections gay Americans have won in
recent years. It would inject meanspiritedness and exclusion into
the document embodying our highest principles and aspirations.
If Mr. Bush had been
acting as a president yesterday, rather than a presidential candidate,
he would have tried to guide the nation on the divisive question
of what rights gay Americans have. Across the nation, elected
officials and others have been weighing in on whether they believe
gays should be allowed to marry, have civil unions, adopt, visit
their partners in hospitals and be free from employment discrimination.
Except for a throwaway line about proceeding with "kindness
and good will and decency," the president's speech was a
call for taking rights away from gay Americans.
studied unwillingness to talk about the rights gay people do have
is particularly significant given the wording of the Federal Marriage
Amendment now pending in Congress. It calls for denying same-sex
couples not only marriage, but also its "legal incidents."
It could well be used to deny gay couples even economic benefits,
which are now widely recognized by cities, states and corporations.
Such an amendment could radically roll back the rights of millions
In his remarks yesterday,
President Bush tried to create a sense of crisis. He talked of
the highest Massachusetts court's recognition of gay marriage,
San Francisco officials' decision to grant marriage licenses to
gay couples and a New Mexico county's doing the same thing. he
did not say the New Mexico attorney general found that gay marriages
violate state law, the California attorney general is asking the
California Supreme Court to review San Francisco's actions, and
Massachusetts is considering amending its State Constitution to
prohibit gay marriage. The president, who believes so strongly
in states' rights in other contexts, should let the states do
their jobs and work out their marriage laws before resorting to
a constitutional amendment.
has been amended over the years to bring women, blacks and young
people into fuller citizenship. President Bush's amendment would
be the first adopted to stigmatize and exclude a group of Americans.
Polls show that while a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage,
many would prefer to allow the states to resolve the issue rather
than adopting a constitutional amendment. They understand what
President Bush does not: the Constitution is too important to
be folded, spindled or mutilated for political gain.