Conservatives question President Bush's support for gay marriage ban
Last week's Senate vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriagealong with President Bush's televised endorsement of the measurewere seen as part of a Republican campaign to mollify its restive conservative base before the midterm elections. But for many conservative Christian activists, the White House did not do enough to build support for the Marriage Protection Amendment, either in the Senate or in the public, before it ultimately failed last week.
Some conservatives say they're puzzled by Bush, who appears genuinely enthusiastic about the issue in his public statements but has nonetheless treated it as a low priority in his second term. "The president gave great comments the other day," says Tom McClusky, chief lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a top conservative advocacy group. "Yet if he truly believed the [gay marriage] threat is there, we are disappointed that he did not do more or even equal to what he did last time."
The last time the amendment came up for a Senate vote, in 2004, the president reportedly called Republican senators who were uneasy about the measure, such as New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, to urge support. This year, the president made no such calls, conservatives say. And last week, Gregg did not back the amendment.
The amendment failed to get a floor vote because only 49 senators voted to end debate on the measure, 11 fewer than the 60 required to call for an up or down vote. After getting 48 votes in 2004, conservative activists were hoping for a majority this year. "Some activists are saying the president could have at least disciplined the Republican Party," says John Green, an expert in politics and religion at the University of Akron. The White House did not return a call seeking comment.
While publicly praising Bush for supporting the amendment, conservative evangelical activists have also vented frustrations. In a radio interview last week with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson asked what the president was doing to win support for the amendment, which required a two-thirds majority to pass the Senate. "Is he working the hill?" Dobson inquired. "Is he calling?"
When Snow responded that he didn't know, Dobson cut him off. "That's unfortunate," he snapped. "Because when Lyndon Johnson wanted the civil rights legislation, he didn't have the votes...and he made it happen.... He used the bully pulpit to make it happen. President Bush has not done that yet."
Elsewhere, conservative activists have criticized first lady Laura Bush and Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, for voicing skepticism or outright opposition to the amendment. Says Green: "They only reinforced this notion that the president has not done everything he could."
Of course, many conservative Christians are grateful to the president and the Senate Republican leadership for supporting the controversial amendment. And in-the-pews evangelicals, the strongest amendment backers, are unlikely to track inside-the-beltway machinations regarding the measure.
But social conservative leaders like Dobson, who was unenthusiastic about Bob Dole's presidential bid in 1996 and voted instead for a third-party candidate, have in the past threatened to punish the gop by encouraging followers to stay home on Election Day. "There is the very real danger," says Green, "that at some point, these groups become discouraged and sit on their hands." And at the moment, there are plenty of signs from the conservative movement that it's less than thrilled with President Bush.