WASHINGTON -- White House press secretary Mike McCurry, wading into an issue Democrats would just as soon avoid in an election year, yesterday reaffirmed President Clinton's opposition to same-sex marriages, saying: "We need to do things to strengthen the American family."
In 1992, Clinton took the same position, but yesterday's answer comes in a more highly charged atmosphere: In Hawaii, the state courts appear to be moving toward recognizing gay unions. This has prompted a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow states to disregard Hawaii's expanded definition of marriage.
Under the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution, other states are required to grant reciprocity to another state's contracts, including the marriage contract. Proponents of the measure note, however, that the Constitution does permit Congress to limit reciprocity.
Bob Dole, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is one of the Senate sponsors of the pre-emptive gay marriage ban, and McCurry was asked whether the president would veto the bill if it crossed his desk.
McCurry implied that the president would sign the bill, a stance that gay leaders had expected. But his explanation about why -- that same-sex marriages would weaken American families -- offended gay activists, many of whom attack that precise explanation as a "right-wing" fantasy.
Some gay leaders lashed out at Republicans for making gay marriage a campaign issue in the first place. Others expressed disappointment in Clinton, saying that in four years he has often charmed and courted them -- only to let them down in the end.
"He must veto this bill!" said David Mixner, a gay activist who has been friends with Clinton for more than 25 years.
"This [ban] will constitute a trend of passing apartheid-type laws aimed at a group of people designed to make them second-class citizens," Mixner said yesterday. "This is not symbolic. We need [to defeat] this for economic reasons, tax reasons, medical reasons and for just plain decency."
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the gay-rights Human Rights Campaign Fund, stressed that it is Republicans who are making this matter an issue.
"My hope is that President Clinton will recognize this for what it is -- completely gratuitous gay-bashing," she said.
Marsha Scott, the deputy White House political director, who has been designated the liaison between the president and the gay community, has been meeting with gay Democrats to tell them not to expect too much on an issue in which 70 percent of Americans oppose them.
Bob Hattoy, a homosexual who was transferred from the White House staff to the Interior Department after being openly critical of the administration's position on gays in the military, has said the issue "is striking fear into the hearts" of Clinton political advisers, who are nervous about their boss being portrayed as a liberal.
If that's the advisers' fear, they've been doing a good job positioning Clinton at the other end of the ideological spectrum. With some exceptions, notably abortion, the president has spent the past year trying to find common ground with cultural conservatives on a host of issues.
He instructed the Education Department to issue guidelines that seemed to lower barriers to school prayer. He supported legislation requiring the "V-chip" to help parents screen offensive television programming. He embraced the idea of school uniforms. He backed mixed-race adoption, long opposed by black social workers.
Appearing on a weekend talk show with Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democratic member of Congress, Gary Bauer, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said he believes the president is being two-faced.
"The president's trying to have it both ways. He, with Barney Frank's help, is saying he's against gay marriages, but he continues to appoint judges to the high court that find all kinds of invisible rights in the Constitution that makes it very difficult to fight these things," Bauer said.
But it is state judges, not federal judges, who made this an issue -- and even some conservatives who find the idea of gay marriage appalling wonder if this is truly a presidential issue. Patrick J. Buchanan, the underdog GOP presidential candidate, said he didn't view gay marriages "as a national campaign issue."
Pub Date: 5/14/96