Congressman Says Bush Is Open to States' Bolstering Gay Rights


Published: February 9, 2004

New York Times

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — President Bush believes states can use contract law to ensure some of the rights that gay partners are seeking through marriage or civil union, a South Carolina congressman said Sunday.

The subject of contracts and gay marriage came up while the lawmaker, Representative Jim DeMint, was traveling with the president and the rest of the South Carolina Republican delegation on Air Force One last week. He described the conversation, first reported in the new issue of Time magazine, as politicians "shooting the breeze" rather than an in-depth policy discussion.

Paraphrasing the president's remarks, Mr. DeMint said: "He said he was not going to condemn anyone, that the need to have various types of agreement does not mean we need to redefine marriage. `If people want to have contracts on hospital visitation and benefits, that's O.K.' "

Responding to questions on Sunday about the Time article, Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said:

"States, through their contract law, have the ability to address some of the issues that advocates of gay marriage are raising, such as hospital visitation rights and insurance benefits and the ability to pass on one's estates to another. What the president has said is that he strongly believes in the sanctity of marriage, so that's what he is saying."

Ms. Buchan noted that civil contracts were available to heterosexual couples as well.

Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, a Canadian court and the top court in Massachusetts have pushed the administration into a delicate balancing act.

Conservative groups are lobbying the White House to endorse a constitutional amendment defining marriage as something that can take place only between a man and a woman. At the same time, the White House wants to appear empathetic to gays who tell of hospitals forbidding them to visit partners on their deathbeds.