Before State of the Union, ACLU Notes Conservative Opposition to Marriage Amendment, Political Unpopularity of Faith-Based Initiative

January 20, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to media previews of President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address tonight, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the President to leave the issue of marriage out of the Constitution and noted the lingering lack of popularity in Congress for legislation to permit employment discrimination by taxpayer-funded religious social service providers.

“Not only are conservative and moderate Republicans split on whether the Constitution should be altered to deny same-sex couples legal rights, the faith-based initiative is a dead letter on the Hill,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “These issues are losers from a political standpoint and potential disasters from a civil liberties perspective.”

The President’s annual speech, which is also expected to contain a call for federal heterosexual marriage promotion programs, is reportedly going to maintain the ambiguous White House support for a constitutional marriage amendment, contingent on whether inaction or action by the courts and state legislatures make it necessary.

It is unclear what specifically he will request regarding the faith-based initiative, but the annual speech to Congress comes just a week after he renewed his call for programs and policies that permit religious groups that discriminate openly in hiring, firing and the provision of services to provide social services with taxpayer dollars.

Although the President often frames the initiative as providing religious groups equal access to social services funds, many religious groups already fulfill their charitable mandates with taxpayer dollars while happily abiding by civil rights laws. Indeed most such groups, like Catholic Charities, point more to a lack of resources than an inability to discriminate against persons who do not share their religion as the biggest problem facing faith-based services today.

For many libertarian and classical conservatives, like former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr and Washington Post columnist George Will, the Federal Marriage Amendment is unpalatable in its treatment of the Constitution as a malleable playground for religiously-motivated social policy. Among many partisan Republicans, the amendment is unpopular because of a clear lack of popular support for the measure.

Interestingly, polling on the issue shows the country generally opposed to changing the Constitution to deny same-sex couples legal rights. A September ABC News Poll showed only 20 percent support for an amendment.

“Undoubtedly, the current White House is stuck in between this rock and a hard place: its conservative base and political reality,” Nojeim said. “Hopefully, moderation on these issues will be the result.”

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