Will Bush's Support for a Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage Make Much of a Difference?

Roundup: Media's Take

Anne E. Kornblut, and Lyle Denniston, in the Boston Globe (Feb. 26, 2004):

History shows that presidents rarely influence the fate of constitutional-amendment proposals; the Constitution gives them no role in the process at all. It is also a lengthy ordeal that, in this case, will almost certainly last beyond the November elections.

As a result, it is relatively easy for Bush, like presidents in the past, to embrace the idea of a constitutional amendment during election season without having to follow up with any real time investment - or suffer the blame if it passes or fails.

"Presidents really don't have much effect on the amending process," said Richard B. Bernstein, a constitutional historian who is a specialist on that process. "Most presidents play games with the process; it happened a lot in the 1980s and 1990s."

For example, Bernstein said, "Ronald Reagan talked a lot about a balanced-budget amendment, but he never fully committed to making it a reality. The same with [the first] President Bush; he never committed his political capital to that amendment."

Bush has expressed his desire to block attempts to legalize gay marriage for more than a year, and there is little doubt that Bush sincerely opposes an expansion of marriage beyond the union of a man and a woman....

In the past, presidents have had almost no impact on the constitutional-amendment process, which tends to be driven more by advocacy groups and members of Congress.

President Carter got some credit for embracing the Equal Rights Amendment, to give women full legal equality, which eventually failed. His role, however, was apparently not much greater than that of his wife, Rosalyn, who signed a resolution endorsing ERA's passage. "The impetus came more from the women's movement, working with their friends in Congress," not Carter, said Sylvia Law, a New York University professor of constitutional law.

Perhaps the only president to move an amendment forward was Abraham Lincoln, who led the way for the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery. "He was really involved in getting it through Congress, really exerting pressure," noted Daniel Farber, a constitutional historian and law professor at Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California .

But even Lincoln was not involved in the process of drafting the changes, a measure of how unimportant a president's stamp of approval can be.

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