US president George W. Bush has called on Congress to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriages, and expressed his alarm at San Francisco for issuing marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples.

His statements were immediately condemned by gay rights activists and leaders of the Democrats, while some Republicans voiced doubts over whether Congress would support such a constitutional change.

In his speech this week, Bush said, If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.

Decisive and democratic action is needed, because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.

He denounced San Francisco for issuing thousands of marriage licences to people of the same gender despite the California family code defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. He also blamed Massachusetts and New Mexico for trying to redefine marriage by allowing same-sex marriages.

Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to the constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and women and as husband and wife.

It is not clear if such an amendment would find sufficient backing in Congress. An amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, and then must be ratified by 38 of the 50 states.

John Feehery, spokesman for Republican house speaker Dennis Hastert, said it would be difficult to get the votes required to pass any such amendment, CNN reported.

But it might not matter. The divisive issue is likely to draw a clear line between the Republicans and Democrats, and may bolster support for Bush among conservatives before the November election.

John M Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said the lives and families of gays and lesbians would be devastated by the president’s call to codify discrimination. Garry pointed out that in nearly four years of office,

Bush has never even publicly uttered the words gay or lesbian.
Senator John Kerry, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said while he was personally opposed to same-sex marriage, it’s an issue that should be sorted out by each individual state.

Kerry said Bush was desperate to distract attention from the challenges he has failed, such as employment, health care and foreign policy. All Americans should be concerned when a president, who is in political trouble, tries to tamper with the constitution of the United States at the start of his re-election campaign.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom agreed. This is a ploy to appease the right wing of his party and change the subject from his dismal record on job-creation and foreign policy, he said.

Since 12 February San Francisco has issued more than 3,200 marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples. People have travelled to the city from all over America and have come from as far away as Venezuela, Switzerland and Thailand.

Newsom argues his actions are legal because the Californian state constitution bars discrimination of any kind, and he urged Bush to come out and meet some of the same-sex couples who had committed themselves to one another.

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