June 5, 2006 -- President Bush strongly restated his opposition to gay marriage today, calling again for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Bush addressed supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages.
"Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization and it should not be redefined by activist judges," he said. "You are here because you strongly support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. And I am proud to stand with you."
Critics say he is trying to shore up his conservative base to stem low approval ratings.
"It's politics, it's pandering and it's placating the core constituency -- the evangelicals," said Gavin Newsom, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco who issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004.
"I believe in people that try to unite, not divide. So I think it's cynical politics. I think it lacks inspiration. It lacks purpose beyond looking at interim elections. I think it's rather unfortunate, and I also think it is particularly unfortunate that it's done on a day where we're commemorating 25 years of HIV and AIDS."
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said a marriage amendment in the Constitution was "necessary because activist courts have left our nation with no other choice."
He echoed comments he made in March, where he said, "I believe society's interests are met by saying -- defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That's what I believe."
This week, the amendment will be up for a vote in the Senate. The House could take up the matter in July. To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then would have to be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures. The odds are against the amendment passing, but the point is to arouse the passions of the president's base.
Across the country, gay marriage is a heated battle. Both supporters and opponents of gay marriage have been pushing their agendas in state legislatures and courts. Thirteen states have passed bans on gay marriage; only Massachusetts has made gay marriage legal.
Newsom's decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will soon be tried by California's Supreme Court. A San Francisco trial judge already ruled that denying marriage to gays and lesbians was discriminatory because the state recognized a fundamental right to marriage.
A proposal to ban same-sex marriage on California's June ballot failed in January when supporters did not gather enough signatures before the deadline. Now anti-gay marriage forces are hoping to pass the ban in 2008.
Across the United States, the public is divided. Fifty-one percent oppose legalizing gay marriage, according to a March poll by Pew Research.
Not all Republicans support the proposed amendment. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reiterated his opposition to the amendment on Friday.
First lady Laura Bush appeared to warn her husband against playing politics in an interview with Fox News in May.
"Well, I don't think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously," she said.
Also in May, Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer that her father flatly objected to the constitutional ban -- a view he did not reveal in the last campaign for the White House.
"I think he has stated publicly his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, which I think is actually a very big deal," she said.
Senate Democrats are trying to label the recent initiative against gay marriage a political ploy.
"And what are we going to do because we don't want to make any hard decisions? Let's go talk about gay marriage," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on NBC's "Meet The Press."
"I think it's ridiculous," Biden said.
Issue of Equality
For those who are pro-gay marriage, it is a civil rights issue, much like women's suffrage in the early 20th century and the African-American struggle for equality in the 1950s and 1960s.
Newsom said that his actions in San Francisco and the Massachusetts state court ruling approving gay marriage were the beginning of a larger movement.
"Remember there were 16, 17 states in this country until 1967 that denied interracial marriage," Newsom said. "Again, 1967, not 1927, interracial marriage was illegal and there were people that challenged that. … If you fear a reaction, you'll never advance a principle. The reality is any social-justice movement goes through precisely the challenges we're going through as it relates to equality of marriage in this country."
For conservative Republicans, gay marriage is a critical issue that they do not want to see advance.
"Unless in the Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, we secure the definition of marriage, a judge somewhere, sometime will redefine marriage for all of America," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Newsom said that playing politics with an issue of equality came dangerously close to undermining the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision. Brown v. Board of Education, which ended the practice of "separate but equal" that kept white and black students apart in public schools.
"We'll create separate institutions because you look different or think different. I think the full promise of the Constitution is equality for all," he said. "It's a very frustrating thing as a citizen of this great country to watch the president placate his constituencies and try to divide this nation."
ABC News' Claire Shipman contributed to this story