US president George W. Bush reiterated his opposition to gay marriage this week, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.

If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honour marriage between a man and a woman, [and] codify that, Bush said in an ABC News interview with Dianne Sawyer on Tuesday.

Bush’s comments were immediately condemned in statements released by US activist groups Human Rights Campaign, the National Stonewall Democrats (NSD) and Democrat presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, who said Bush’s comments were in direct contrast with the views of tolerance and equality that reflect the values of the American people.

It is time for President Bush to end his alliance with bigotry once and for all and speak out against the Republican Party’s hostile election-year attempt to polarise the election -¦ Gephardt said.

Bush spoke in response to the decision in November by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to grant the term marriage to same-sex couples and to amend the state’s constitution. The law cannot be overturned by the federal Supreme Court and offers a potential legal challenge to the 1996 national Defence of Marriage Act, which allows states to discriminate legally against same-sex married couples.

In the interview this week, Bush criticised the Massa-chusetts Supreme Court, referring to the lawmakers as activists.

Gephardt responded that the US Constitution has never been amended to limit the rights of individuals, a point echoed by national US activist group Human Rights Campaign.

The amendment pending in Congress would go much further than defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Human Rights Campaign political director Winnie Stachelberg announced on Tuesday.

It could strip away any legal protection for millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans and their children, including the right to Social Security survivor benefits, the right to inherit a partner’s property without heavy tax penalties, even the right to visit a loved one in the hospital. And any attempt to use this amendment to score a few votes is a strategy sure to backfire and cost elected officials their claims of compassionate conservativism, she said.

Executive director of NSD Dave Noble said the amendment wasn’t about protecting marriage but about politics. President Bush continues to flirt with this anti-family amendment long after every Democratic candidate for president has condemned it, Noble said. Gephardt also called the move purely political and unnecessarily divisive at the expense of those who already suffer from discrimination.

An amendment to the US constitution is no easy matter, however. Visiting US bishop and gay rights advocate John Shelby Spong told Sydney Star Observer in October that Bush’s amendment plans were actually a positive sign. (Bush declared at the time that 12 to 18 October were to be deemed Marriage Protection Week.)

If you understand American politics that’s a great sign -“ it takes 20 to 25 years to amend the constitution, Spong said. So that in 20 to 25 years the consciousness will simply be in a different place. It’ll die.

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