When they watch TV broadcasts of gay marriage ceremonies being performed in San Francisco, Chris Pulido and Craig Martinez look for their friends among the throngs of grooms. And then they wonder, "If we were there, would we be among them?"

The question, to wed one's lover or not, is one that the couple, who recently relocated to Baltimore from San Francisco, said should be open for the pondering to anyone - gay or straight.

President Bush's call yesterday for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage made the men shudder.

But they said they expected such a move from the Republican president, who has made no secret of his conservative religious beliefs.

"It doesn't surprise me that this is something he would do," Pulido, 29, said over dinner with Martinez, 28, his partner of three years, at City Cafe in Mount Vernon. "But it still upsets me. ... It makes me want to go home."

In interviews yesterday, many gay and lesbian city residents expressed disappointment that the president had weighed in on the cultural issue, but few were surprised.

Some said Bush was trying to divert attention from the war in Iraq and the economy.

Others blamed the furor on the gay community itself, which has pushed for same-sex marriages rather than civil unions that, in some cases, carry the same legal weight as marriage but don't come with the cultural baggage.

'Community lost debate'

"The gay community lost the debate when members made it about marriage," said Jeff Anthony, 45, an information technology manager and Elkridge resident who was relaxing with friends at Grand Central Station pub. "I just want the same rights as straight couples."

Some of those interviewed said that older gays and lesbians are more likely to push for marriage over civil unions since they grew up in an era when marriage was the most common union between a couple. Younger gays and lesbians said that for them it's more about equal rights - the ability to visit

a loved one in the hospital or inherit property upon the death of a spouse - than a ceremony in a church or courthouse.

"When you say marriage you think of a groom in a black tuxedo and a bride in a big white dress," said Paul Yankelunas, 39, a freight forwarder from Baltimore, who was dining with his partner of more than a year at City Cafe. "The term gay marriage is what drives people nuts."

'Want same legal rights'

Yankelunas said he doesn't need to be married to be faithful to his partner. That's why he and his partner, who asked not to be named because he has not revealed his sexual orientation to co-workers, are advocates of civil ceremonies or legal arrangements that would cut cultural biases.

"We just want the same legal rights," Yankelunas said.

Felicia Walker French, 44, who works for Baltimore City as a child advocate, said that she and her partner, Ceara Walker, 35, laugh when they hear politicians and religious leaders blame gay unions for a general erosion of the state of marriage nationwide.

"We are not the ones running to the divorce court," Walker French said.

Many of those interviewed likened the current debate to the 1950s and 1960s, when African-Americans fought for civil rights.

"I'm not asking to come to the White House and have the president affirm my union," said Samuel Kunz, 24, of Baltimore. "All I want is to live my life in a free society, which is what I thought the United States was."

Most agreed that if Bush thought he would win votes with the amendment proposition, he's wrong.

"Come November, people will see Bush for what he is - someone who can't keep his promise," said Kunz, a credit manager. "If I could, I would cancel his credit."