Former first lady Laura Bush has broken with her husband on the premier social issues of his administration and said she backs gay marriage and abortion.
After more than eight years of silence on the controversial issues, Mrs. Bush said in an interview with CNN's Larry KingTuesday, that gay marriage and abortion were points of contention with her husband, former President George W. Bush.
Mrs. Bush in recent weeks has been promoting her memoir "Spoken from the Heart," in which she writes about her life both before and after becoming first lady.
In response to a question about gay marriage, she said, "There are a lot of people who have trouble coming to terms with that because they see marriage as traditionally between a man and a woman. But I also know that, you know, when couples are committed to each other and love each other, that they ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has."
Mrs. Bush said she and the ex-president "disagree" on legalizing same-sex marriage.
"I understand totally what George thinks and what other people think about marriage being between a man and a woman. And it's a real, you know, reversal really for [them] to accept gay marriage," she said.
When King asked if she could accept gay marriage, the first lady said: "I think we could, yeah." "You think [legalization of same-sex marriage] is coming?" asked King.
"Yeah, that will come, I think," she replied.
Laura Bush called gay marriage the "social issue" of her husband's second campaign in 2004. In February of that year, weeks after a Massachusetts court ruled same-sex couples could marry in that state, her husband endorsed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The ex-first lady also told King she believes abortion should remain legal, an opinion she suggested she held on the President Bush's first day in office in 2001.
On the day of George W. Bush's first inauguration, the first lady sat down with CBS' Katie Couric who "asked two questions about abortion, and then she asked me if I was for the overturn of Roe versus Wade... This was the very morning my husband was about to be inaugurated. And I thought, do I really want to start my husband's presidency, you know, suggesting that a Supreme Court rule being overturned? And I said 'no.'"
Laura Bush said abortion should "remain legal, because I think it's important for people, for medical reasons and other reasons."
Mrs. Bush said she was "not really" expressive about same-sex marriage and abortion when she lived in the White House. She said she and her husband talked about both issues, but were not "argumentative."
"I understand his viewpoint. I really do," she said. "I understand his viewpoint. And he understands mine."
Bush's comments sparked reaction – and criticism – from both sides of the aisle. Liberal groups said she should have spoken out sooner when she had the White House as a bully pulpit. Conservatives defended the merits of their arguments despite, being seemingly unable to convince the wife of one of their movement's most prominent figureheads.
"When the right wing was using same-sex couples as election year pawns and the president calling for a cynical constitutional amendment to deny people rights, we would have welcomed support from the first lady. Nevertheless, her speaking out for marriage equality shows that more and more Americans realize all families need the same rights and protections," said Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.
Conservatives said Laura Bush had hinted at her positions in the past and that her opinions neither influenced policy nor reflected the sentiments of the American people.
"It's disappointing to hear Laura Bush, who is a well respected and admired former first lady, espouse positions on marriage and the value of human life that are contrary not only to her husband's but arguably, according to polls, in conflict with the majority of Americans," said Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for the conservative group Focus on the Family.