Today's Papers

Straightening Out the Constitution

Everybody leads with President Bush announcing his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Calling the union of a man and a woman the “most fundamental institution of civilization,” Bush said the amendment is needed to “protect marriage in America” from “activist judges” and other potential meddlers.

While many in Bush’s base applauded the move, the Washington Post says GOP leaders on Capitol Hill “discouraged” the White House from pushing the amendment, arguing it would have trouble passing anyway. House majority leader Tom DeLay said, “We are going to look at our options and be deliberate about what solutions we may suggest.” Other Republicans tell the papers that they’re uncomfortable with taking the issue out of states’ hands. The Post says there was debate at the White House itself and adds that it’s questionable how hard Bush will lobby for the amendment. USA Today says that too.

The Post’s Dana Milbank says Bush had intended sidestep such culture war battles but couldn’t afford to do so after his base had “grown restless over the budget deficit, government spending and his plan to liberalize immigration.” One unnamed Republican senator “with ties to the religious conservative movement” told Milbank: This is “the last place Bush wanted to be. He should be coasting on being the war president and deliverer of tax cuts; instead, he has to take a divisive role on a contentious social issue that could undercut him as a compassionate conservative.”

Of course, there are potential political benefits to proposing the amendment. The Wall Street Journal says that in key states were the economy is still reeling—say Ohio—support for the amendment is high.

The president didn’t propose specific language, but the White House’s spokesman said the administration is fine with the amendment that a legislator has already introduced. The Post says while the amendment’s main sponsor insists it wouldn’t bar states from offering civil unions, “constitutional scholars and even a few of the amendment’s authors,” say the proposal would do just that. The New York Times emphasizes the ambiguity of the phrasing. The amendment says:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or thelegal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. [Emphasis added]

Civics class lesson: In order to make it into the Constitution, an amendment must win two-thirds support in both the Senate and House and must be ratified by 38 states.

Both Senators Kerry and Edwards have said that they’re for civil unions and against the amendment as well as gay marriage. They say that it should be left to the states—the same position Bush took in 2000. Slate’sChatterbox looks at Bush’s“fair-weather federalism.” 

Everybody mentions that Kerry blew away Edwards in yesterday’s three small races that neither candidate focused on: He took Utah 55 percent to 30 percent and Idaho 55 percent to 22 percent. Kerry won 50 percent in Hawaii where Rep. Dennis Kucinich finished second with 26 percent (about 1,000 votes).

The NYT off-leads and the Post fronts the Pentagon’s announcement that it’s charging two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay with conspiracy to commit war crimes and terrorism. The trial is expected to begin sometime in late spring or early summer and will be the U.S.’s first tribunal for enemy prisoners since WWII. The Post says the military won’t seek the death penalty.

A piece inside the NYT quotes an unnamed senior scientist at the Department of Agriculture saying that top officials pushed researchers to lift the ban on some food imports before testing had confirmed it was safe to do so. A few scientists there denied the charges, but the article has some supporting evidence for one case.

As expected (except by the NYT), Haiti’s opposition rejected the U.S.-backed peace plan to share power with President Aristide. “There will be no more delays; our answer remains the same,” said one opposition leader. “Aristide must resign.” Meanwhile, Aristide appealed for international intervention. The NYT notices rumblings on Capitol Hill about what some legislators consider the White House’s “dithering.”

Everybody notes inside that nearly 600 people were killed by an earthquake in Morocco.

The NYT teases what it describes as a “partial retreat” by the White House, which is reportedly ready to offer North Korea aid in return Pyongyang’s promise to freeze and eventually dismantle its nukes program. The Times says that in a bit of a fig leaf, the offer will officially be made by South Korea. Not surprisingly, one of the key issues is how long the “freeze” will last before the dismantling begins.

A piece inside the Los Angeles Times says the Dear Leader isn’t in a negotiating mood. As one analyst put it, “North Korea is waiting for its own regime change—in D.C.” The Times says the desire not to deal with the current White House is both personal and political.

An op-ed in the Post says that what one U.N. official called “one of the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophes”—what the Post calls genocide—is happening in a place you’ve never heard of: the Darfur region of western Sudan.