Add to My Yahoo!

Bush press secretary says gay marriage amendment civil rights measure; Stumbles when asked to define civil rights

Published: Monday June 5, 2006

Print This | Email This

At the White House press briefing today, Bush press secretary Tony Snow signaled that Bush considers an amendment barring same-sex marriage a "civil rights" matter, then stumbled when asked to define civil rights, RAW STORY has found. A video of the comments can be found here.

Relevant transcript from White House press briefing follows, followed by full transcript relating to all questions about the Federal Marriage Amendment.


WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TONY SNOW: Whether it passes or not, as you know, Terry, there have been a number of cases where civil rights matters have risen on a number of occasions, and they've been brought up for repeated consideration by the United States Senate and other legislative bodies...

Q You mentioned civil rights. Are you comparing this to various civil rights measures which have come to the Congress over the years?

MR. SNOW: Not -- well, these -- it --

Q Is this a civil right?

MR. SNOW: Marriage? It actually -- what we're really talking about here is an attempt to try to maintain the traditional meaning of an institution that has maintained one meeting for -- meaning for a period of centuries. And furthermore --

Q And you would equate that with civil rights?

MR. SNOW: No, I'm just saying that I think -- well, I don't know. How do you define civil rights?

Q It's not up to me. Up to you.

MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, no, it's your question. So I -- if I --

Q (Chuckles.)

MR. SNOW: I need to get a more precise definition.




Q There's some criticism that the president's remarks today are merely intended to energize conservative supporters, since there's little likelihood this is going to pass in the Senate.

What's your response to that?

MR. SNOW: Well, the response is, the president -- again -- and we went through this last week -- this is driven in many ways by the legislative calendar. The president is making his views known.

Whether it passes or not, as you know, Terry, there have been a number of cases where civil rights matters have risen on a number of occasions, and they've been brought up for repeated consideration by the United States Senate and other legislative bodies.

So as far as a sop, I mean, I've also had people say, "Well, wait a minute. You take a look at a constitutional amendment? That's only a 45 to 50 percent proposition."

You can cut this both ways when you take a look at polls. But the fact is, A, the president is restating a long-held position, and B, he's also made it clear that he wishes it didn't have to come to this. This is in response to a number of states where, either through their own constitutions or through laws or even initiatives or referenda, people have chosen to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and the courts have overridden them.

Q He presents this as something that he's talking about because of the occasion of the Senate vote?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q One this week is over, do you expect him to be silent on this?

MR. SNOW: Don't know. I mean, I don't think there -- look, in many ways, again, the debate is hot right -- the question is, will you be asking about it in five weeks? And the answer is probably no. Quite often a president will make statements -- and we went through this ripeness criterion the other day -- when it is in fact in the public eye and there is action that may be imminent or pending. And that is the time one would expect a president to speak out on them.

Q You mentioned civil rights. Are you comparing this to various civil rights measures which have come to the Congress over the years?

MR. SNOW: Not -- well, these -- it --

Q Is this a civil right?

MR. SNOW: Marriage? It actually -- what we're really talking about here is an attempt to try to maintain the traditional meaning of an institution that has maintained one meeting for -- meaning for a period of centuries. And furthermore --

Q And you would equate that with civil rights?

MR. SNOW: No, I'm just saying that I think -- well, I don't know. How do you define civil rights?

Q It's not up to me. Up to you.

MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, no, it's your question. So I -- if I --

Q (Chuckles.)

MR. SNOW: I need to get a more precise definition.

Q Can you stand there and say with a straight face that there is not a political dimension to this?

MR. SNOW: Of course there's a political dimension to it. There's going to be a Senate vote on it, for heaven sakes. You have -- there's naturally -- there are political dimensions on both sides.

It's -- this is an issue -- and we talked about this this morning -- that I think is of keen interest to a lot of people. And one of the interesting aspects is that there -- it's still -- the amendment still permits states to consider arrangements and institutions for same-sex couples that would not be called marriage. But the president feels strongly that marriage as an institution has a fixed means that ought to be honored in American law.


Q In January of 2005 the president was asked about his support for this, and he said: Well, there's kind of a mind-set in the Senate right now that it's unnecessary to push for this amendment, because there is something -- a law that's been passed, the Defense of Marriage Act, and that's frankly good enough.

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q So what's changed?

MR. SNOW: The Defense of Marriage Act now also is itself subject to legal challenge in a number of places, and that changes the dynamics a bit.

And the question also ought to be asked of the Senate, because the dynamics apparently have changed in the Senate, in the sense that the leadership has seen fit to bring this up for a vote.

Q In an election year, and of course the last time this came up for a vote was in 2004, another election year.

MR. SNOW: Yeah. Again, I'm not sure that this is a big driver, to tell you the truth, of voters. This is an issue that is of concern, that the president is making his views known on. But you know, I think we ought to be clear that the president is speaking out about a piece of legislation because he believes in it.

Q Isn't this why people hate politics -- this kind of political posturing?

MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I don't think it's posturing. I mean, I think many of us in this room are married, and we have strong feelings about the importance of marriage in our lives. And I think having the ability to define marriage is something that's important to a great many people in the United States of America.

Whether the proper form is a constitutional amendment or dealing with it state by state, that is something that the people are going to have to decide.

Q One follow-up on DOMA.

MR. SNOW: Yeah?

Q What has changed about the potential legal challenge since January of last year that makes this riper?

MR. SNOW: Again, there -- you're going to have to ask --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SNOW: You're going to have to ask the people who brought it up for a vote in the Senate.

Q The Republican leadership works in concert with the White House, as you know.

MR. SNOW: Yeah, but I'm not aware that the White House had any particular hand in scheduling this. But you know what? I'll check it out, because I don't have the answer to --

Q Tony, can I follow that up?

MR. SNOW: I'll get to you, Lester.

Q Okay.


Q More than 8,000 same-sex couples have been married in Massachusetts. What threat do they pose? And what's the president's --

MR. SNOW: They don't -- this is not in response to a threat. This is merely a matter of trying to clarify what marriage ought to mean under the law. As you know, the people of Massachusetts, also by referendum, defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, and the Supreme Judicial Court decided to throw it out. And it remains a matter of contention.

I don't think people look at this as a threat. It is trying to clarify what is an important and contentious cultural and legal issue.

Q With this -- and let me just follow up.

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q With this to become a constitutional amendment, what legally then happens to those 8,000-plus same-sex couples? Are their marriages annulled?

MR. SNOW: That would have to require keener legal expertise than mine. I don't want to try to --

Q The president doesn't know what would happen?

MR. SNOW: No, the press secretary doesn't know. (Laughter.)

Q You mentioned the president was actually concerned about other issues besides this one.


Q Tony, I just wanted -- on gay marriage again. You are almost portraying the president as being a passive participant in this; that the Senate is acting, so he's speaking out.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q In the gaggle, you suggested the media is over-hyping this issue.

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q Conservatives, like Tony Perkins, are saying it was the president who brought this up a lot during the 2004 campaign. Wasn't he hyping it then? Why is the president being so passive?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize -- I don't think it's passive. Again, the president has made clear what his views are. But, you know, this is one where I -- I'm trying to figure out exactly how one decides when one is active and one is passive.

Here what you're saying is, wait a minute, he -- Helen just hit me with: He gave a radio address, he's talking to these people. How can he spend so much time on it? You're saying: How could he spend so little energy on it.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SNOW: I mean, the fact is that the president is making a position clear --

Q It's all in the point of view --

MR. SNOW: -- on an issue of concern.

Q But you were saying before, as well, you know, it depends on the public interest on it.

MR. SNOW: Yeah, yeah.

Q On Social Security reform, he gave speech after speech. He decided, this is what I'm going to do, I'm using my political capital on this.

In 2004, he led conservatives to believe he would use political capital on this issue. Instead, it looks like he's going to do a radio address on Saturday, he's going to speak today, and move on.

MR. SNOW: Well, we'll let them draw their appropriate conclusions based on their interaction with the president.

Q But then why is he not -- the bottom line question: Why is he not using political capital on this, then?

MR. SNOW: Why is he not using political --

Q I mean, if he's made this a big issue in 2004, why is he not using political capital? Why is it not that important to him? Is he --

MR. SNOW: No, no -- see, again --

Q Why -- (off mike) --

MR. SNOW: Why is it any -- yeah, exactly. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, Ed. If he --

(Cross talk; laughter.)

Q But the president over and over -- the president said over and over on Social Security --

(Continued laughter, cross talk.)

Q Over and over on Social Security the president says to the Democrats -- to the media: It matters to me.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q So at what point -- that's what I'm trying -- why on gay marriage is it not that important --

MR. SNOW: You mean why on traditional marriage?

Q On the issue of gay marriage, yeah.

MR. SNOW: No, it's the issue of traditional marriage. This is the Family Marriage Amendment. And the president has made clear what his views are. I think you look at the whip counts, we look at the whip counts. You know, you got to find out what you think is possible in this political environment.

Q Following that up --

Q Wait. Wait. It's my turn.

MR. SNOW: I promise I'll get to you, Lester. And I can't wait. But to get me ready -- is this just going to be one part, or is this like two or three?


Q Thank you. Are you saying that the president believes that marriage is under attack?

MR. SNOW: No, I think what the president is saying is that courts around the country have decided to overturn decisions made by voters in their state based on their view or interpretation of the Constitution. And if it comes to the point where you have to figure out what the Constitution says on such an issue where there are big and important divides in American culture, as this proceeds, it may be necessary to clarify what the Constitution says by amending it.


Q Tony, talks on the issue of civil rights as it relates to this marriage amendment, will there be a civil rights violation for gays if the amendment does go through? Was that -- (inaudible) -- reflective of thought --

MR. SNOW: A civil rights violation for gays? No, the president has made it clear he wants people to be able to live their private lives as they see fit.

Q But wait a minute. But if --

MR. SNOW: Whoa. What do you mean, a civil rights violation? You mean that it would be a violation of civil rights to be gay?

Q No, no, no, no.

MR. SNOW: Oh, okay.

Q Would gays be able to file civil rights lawsuits because they are not allowed to marry? Civil rights issues -- you tried to get into the definition of civil rights --

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q -- and wrongs against -- knowing wrongs against a group.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Okay. That group would be indeed wrong, they feel, if they are not allowed to marry --

MR. SNOW: Well, that -- April, as you know, that's a very contentious legal issue which I cannot decide up here. Obviously anything that would happen would be heavily litigated, and we would have to see how the courts came out on it.


Q Tony, two questions.

MR. SNOW: I knew it couldn't just be one. Go ahead.

Q There's a news release on the Internet today from Exodus International, which is the organization of former homosexuals, with 135 member groups, and they're reporting that they are guests of the president today at the White House.

And my question: You said there are no homosexual groups here today. Were any invited?

MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of, Lester. I don't think so.

Q Second, The New York Times has just reported, quote, "This White House, like all White Houses, is obsessed with the press," end of quote. My question: Will you admit to this alleged obsession, or is this just one more New York Times exaggeration?

MR. SNOW: It's more a love affair than an obsession, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q Very good.

Q (Laughs.) I salute you. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: (Laughs.)

Q Tony, on the immigration trip tomorrow, has the president got any new tack to help bridge some differences between the House and Senate --

MR. SNOW: I think one of the messages the president is going to want to convey is that when you take a look at sort of the priorities and interests of members of both parties and in the House and the Senate, you're going to find that there are quite a few issues on which they agree. And I've ticked them off before, but I think one of the points of emphasis may be to highlight some of those.

Everybody agrees on the importance of border security. Everybody agrees on the importance of identifying people who are here illegally. There's widespread agreement that if you cannot move out all 11 or 12 or 15 million or whatever the number is, how do you make it so that they pay an appropriate debt to society? There's a -- most people agree with a temporary worker program. In other words, there are vast areas of agreement, and I think quite often what happens here is many people developed opinions about the president's program before the president announced his program. And I think this is an opportunity not only to remind people of what he has said, but also to remind them that there's a fair amount of common ground not only between different factions in the Republican Party but between both parties.

Q If I could follow up on that, what is the significance of his visit to the facility in Omaha on Wednesday?

MR. SNOW: It's a Catholic Charities event, and the theme there is going to be assimilation.

Q And Tony, can you describe what he's going to see in Artesia and what --

MR. SNOW: I probably could, but I have actually not looked at the trip notes. I know that we're going to be swearing in a new head of the -- (turning to staff) -- is it the new head of the Border Patrol? (Returning to press corps) Be swearing in the head of the Border Patrol. We're also going to be taking a look at Border Patrol activities in Artesia.

Q One more thing no the immigration trip, if I may. It sounds like -- you just talked about these vast areas of shared priorities.

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q This is still a huge, heavy lift, isn't it, to try and get these two wildly different pieces of legislation --

MR. SNOW: It's going to be a considerable amount of work, yes.

Q On that point, Tony, if I may --

MR. SNOW: We'll get -- go ahead.

Q To that end, I'm interested that the president is, in essence, taking his show on the road.

But the real work, I think, is back here in the capital, in bringing the House and Senate together. Lawmakers have said the president will have to take a very active role. What is he planning on doing specifically to --

MR. SNOW: I can't -- I'm not going to tell you specifically what he does. Quite often the president's most effective when he is working behind the scenes and not broadcasting through you or me.

But I guarantee you that the president is actively involved -- and part of -- also, going around the country, there are a couple of things. A lot of times immigration is discussed almost in a vacuum. People have perceptions about immigration. They don't know what border stations look like. They don't know what a lot of these different situations may look like. And it gives the president an opportunity to illustrate and dramatize what is going on.

And also, as you know, members of Congress keep coming back and saying, "Man, I'm getting an earful from the people back home." Well, this gives the president an opportunity also to converse with the people back home.

Q Is there a point where the president or his representative dealing with the House and Senate might ask the speaker to suspend this one time his doctrine, as it's called, of moving from a majority of the majority --

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q -- because that, in the essence, now will be the ultimate roadblock in moving.

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to prejudge. At this point there are no plans, at this juncture, to ask the speaker to suspend the majority of the majority. But I can't speak for what may happen. Just don't know.

Q Is that recognized as a significant hurdle to clear in this?

MR. SNOW: If the speaker feels very strongly about it, doesn't seem eager to change.

Q Thank you. In Hanoi today Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is calling for expanded military exchanges between Vietnam and the U.S. Experts say the reasons are to establish a key location in the world war -- worldwide war against terror and to serve as a buffer against China and its expanding military. Is that true?

MR. SNOW: I am unfamiliar with the secretary's comments, so I would refer you back to DOD, because they know what he said. And I just haven't had time to track that today.

Q An immigration politics question. This --

MR. SNOW: Yeah.

Q There's a special election -- congressional election in California -- yeah, tomorrow.

MR. SNOW: Tomorrow. California 50th.

Q Immigration is playing a huge role. First of all, is the president going to make -- is he doing a recorded call, or is he going to have any influence in that race? And also, the Democratic candidate, Francine Busby, had the statement "You don't need papers for voting." Last week she made that statement. Any reaction to that?

MR. SNOW: No. I mean, it obviously is a huge issue right now because she -- I guess it was in response to a question somebody was asking about voting, and she said you don't need papers for voting.

She later said that what she really meant was you don't need papers to help with the campaign.

But in any event, it's obviously been a very hot topic out there in California.

Q Two things on marriage. First, logistical. The remarks are in 450. Where is the meeting taking place?

MR. SNOW: Roosevelt Room.

Q Second, the president is generally a states' rights kind of guy on issues. Why not on this issue?

MR. SNOW: He is. I mean that's exactly what he is, and I'll tell you why. And I'm glad you asked, Ken. Because states' rights -- here you have in a number of states, including Massachusetts, where the voters said we want marriage to be defined as a man and a woman. The court said no. I mean, the people you ought to be asking about the sovereign rights of states may be state and federal courts which have been overturning what the states, either legislatively or through ballot initiative, have gone ahead and tried to inscribe into their own state law.

So I would argue that the president is trying to preserve the states' rights in this particular case.

Q But he's trying to prevent -- if there's a state out there where the people want this, he does not want to allow that to happen.

MR. SNOW: Well, that is a hypothetical in this particular case because I'm not aware of any state where that has achieved majority status.

Q But why not allow a state to do what it wants? What's different about this issue than, say, death penalty? Why not have a federal amendment dictating how you do death penalty?

MR. SNOW: Well, because marriage is a unique institution in the history of American society.

(Cross talk.)

MR. SNOW: Well, you can name a whole lot of issues that are important, but --

Q And he usually does in supporting letting states make their decisions.

MR. SNOW: Right. And again, I'm telling you that in this particular case -- we're talking past each other. What you're saying is that by coming up with a uniform definition of marriage you're getting in the way of states. It could be -- it is pretty obvious at this point that there are a number of judges around the country who are reading into the Constitution something the president does not believe is there. And furthermore, they are doing it despite the expressed opinions of people living on those states.

So what is he trying to do? He is acknowledging, more in sorrow than anything else, that this may in fact require a constitutional amendment, which is the point.

As you know, the court has been a bit all over the place when it comes to the death penalty. The reason why is the court has sort of had its say now on the death penalty, and it has said everybody can decide.

Q What is the U.S. reaction to the foiled Canada terror plot?

MR. SNOW: Relief. I mean very happy that there has been successful cooperation. It's an international effort. And the Canadian government -- not only relief, but we congratulate Canadian authorities on intercepting such a plot.

Q Does the administration share in the concern of Republican Chairman Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee? He said that there's a disproportionate numbers of al Qaeda members in Canada because of liberal immigration and refugee asylum policies. Do you share that concern?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into characterizing al Qaeda penetration -- alleged al Qaeda penetration in Canada.

I think it's worth saying that, again, U.S. and Canadian authorities have been pretty vigorous in working the intelligence on this.

And as you know, this has become a hot political issue in Canada. But far be it from me to try to get involved in internal Canadian politics.

Q How much of a role did the FBI play in --

MR. SNOW: This was primarily a Royal Canadian Mounted Police operation, and they kept us in the loop.

Q Just to follow up to that, Tony. Was there any communication between Ottawa and Washington during this? Had the president spoken to the Canadian authorities at all? And apparently, there --

MR. SNOW: I don't believe he has spoken directly to Canadian authorities. I think that's probably been done through Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

Q Canadians are also saying that they're going to send down emissaries in the next couple of weeks to dispel myths in this country about how bad Canada is. (Laughter.) It's about time. They -- as far as you know, is anything planned with the White House? Any officials in the White House getting involved in that?

MR. SNOW: As you know, typically, we don't get ahead on the schedule. But furthermore, let me tell you, I know nothing about it, so I just don't know.

Yes, Lester.

Q Yes. In Michigan, the Lansing State Journal said that U.S. Senators Stabenow and Levin, quote, "Voted in favor of illegality in favor of border insecurity," and my question, does the president believe that the Lansing --

MR. SNOW: Lester, last time you asked a question like this, there was this big, splashy thing on WorldNetDaily about what I did or did not believe. I'm not going to bite on that editorial on the Lansing State paper.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you. (Laughter.)