Bush blew it on the gay marriage question. OK, we will give the President credit for picking a horse and riding it, while Sen. Kerry, his presumed opponent, hides in the barn with his handlers.
However, there are two questions at issue - where are we as a society going, and how do we get there? Virtually all Republicans, and even some principled Democrats, can unite on the "process" question - this should be decided by the legislatures and referenda, rather than the courts, with the model being the Civil Rights Act, rather than Roe v. Wade. Bush attempted to focus on process in his statement, and argued that the outcome has already been agreed, thirty eight states and the US Congress having spoken against gay marriage.
As to outcome, however, there is a huge generational divide, public opinion is evolving, and time is against the opponents of gay marriage. In such an environment, a constitutional amendment looks like an attempt to draw a line now that gay marriage opponents will not be able to hold in ten or twenty years. More importantly, proper conservatives do not like to amend the constitution; Democrats would amend it every day of the week and twice on Sundays, and we need to oppose that sort of opportunistic tinkering.
So, Bush is half right on process - we want to keep this away from the courts - but wrong to support an amendment, and wrong to think that today's opposition to gay marriage will stand the test of time.
What he should have done is say that he opposes gay marriage, is willing to support (or at least, will not oppose) civil unions, and thinks this issue highlights the importance of electing a President who will appoint responsible Federal judges.
Based on the reaction of Tom DeLay, my guess is that we are seeing a bit of a Texas Two-Step here - having enunciated his principles, Bush will retreat, Congress will not act, and the FMA will take its place alongside the Flag Burning Amendment in the conservative retirement home.
Let's remember that Rudy Giuliani will be a prominent speaker at the Republican convention in New York City. It's hard to imagine that a gay-bashing convention is what Bush and Rove are looking for, and Bush did conclude his statement with a call for "kindness and goodwill and decency". In fact, we pity the poor fool at the RNC who has the unhappy task of digging up some gay Republicans to appear on the podium alongside the black Republicans.
MORE: James Glassman is my new best friend on this issue. And we love this Mitch McConnell quote so much, we are sending it out with a special dedication to Jane Galt, because we are huge fans with long memories.
"I want to be perfectly clear, I have no sympathy for those who desecrate the flag," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "But the appropriate way to deal with someone who desecrates the flag might be a punch in the nose as opposed to evisceration of the First Amendment."
UNRELENTING: Matt Yglesias is very interesting on poll data. Meanwhile, I can not track down the survey that flickered by on television showing broad support for the FMA, or at least, I think it did - if I recall correctly the poll question was "Do you think that gay marriage policy should be set by (a) wild eyed, unelected, unaccountable judges, or (b) thoughtful elected officials representing their sensible constituents". I think that the FMA supporters won, with 52% of respondents choosing (b). But I might be kidding.