Last edited: February 14, 2005

Frist Steps Back on Gay Marriage Amendment Newscenter, July 16, 2003

By Paul Johnson, Washington Bureau Chief

Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is backing off slightly from his declared support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

On June 29th, Frist told ABC television news that the would support the amendment.

But now Frist has softened that stance saying that if Massachusetts’ highest court legalizes gay marriage, “one alternative is a constitutional amendment.”

The change in attitude follows comments by President Bush. Bush said last week he would not take a position until the Massachusetts Superior Court of Justice rules.

Gay couples are challenging the state’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A decision is expected any day.

Frist says that he still believes marriage should remain the “union between one man and one woman—not two men or three men or four men, or one man or one woman or two women and three women or three women and three men.” The go softly approach has also been taken by Sen. George Allen, another member of the Senate Republican leadership. The Virginia conservative declined this week to endorse the constitutional amendment but said that he also wants to see what the Massachusetts court decides, but added that the US Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws has changed the complexion of the marriage issue.

“As we analyze the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision [on privacy rights for gays], we will consider a number of options to preserve the traditional institution of marriage,” he said in response to an inquiry by the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper.

Allen has had a history of supporting anti-gay measures. Nine years ago , when he was governor of Virginia, Allen was asked on a radio call-in show about a state appellate court decision returning custody of a 2-year-old boy to his lesbian mother.

Such gay relationships are “unnatural,” he said, emphasizing that it is “not in the best interests of a child to be raised in that environment.” He also said such relationships violated the state’s sodomy laws.

Also as governor, Allen backed a policy that denied state-supported housing loans to gay couples.

In the 2000 campaign for Senate, Allen contended incumbent Democrat Charles S. Robb was soft on gays, and said that Robb favored gay marriage (a position Robb had not taken). Allen said: “He votes like he’s from Vermont,” alluding to the state that became first to recognize same-sex unions.

But while two of the most senior GOP members of the Senate are stepping back from the precipice, Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum is continuing the charge full steam ahead.

Santorum said Tuesday that whatever the Massachusetts court decides the constitutional amendment should go ahead. The very fact that it came to court at all, Satorum said, is proof that the amendment is needed.

In an interview published this week in GQ, Santorum unleashed another attack on gays. After telling the interviewer he would be supportive if one of his children came to him and said he was gay, Samtorum told the magazine: “You try to point out to them what is the right thing to do. And we have many temptations to do things we shouldn’t do. That doesn’t mean we have to give in to those temptations. I have temptations, as we all do, all the time, to do things we shouldn’t do.

“Whether we have that disposition because of environmental factors, genetic factors, whatever, it doesn’t mean you have to submit. We are people of free will and free choices.”

Tuesday, three members of Congress, two Democrats and one Republican, called on fellow lawmakers to follow the advice of Vice President Dick Cheney during the 2000 election campaign and reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In a letter to members of Congress, Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) pointed out that, during the 2000 Vice-Presidential debate, Cheney publicly stated that the same-sex marriage issue ought not to be decided by the federal government.

Responding to a question on gay marriage, Cheney said: I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.”

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