NEW YORK - America's gay community reacted with horror and outrage to President George W. Bush's call -- applauded by conservative family groups -- for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.
"Same-sex families pose no threat to this country or other couples," said Gary Buseck, legal director of the gay advocacy group Lambda Legal.
"The threat to families is a proposed amendment, which would write discrimination into the constitution for the first time ever," Buseck said.
"Young people listening to Bush today will wonder if they can be part of the American dream, when marrying the person they love might never be part of their future."
While a majority of Americans supports some kind of civil unions for gays, a New York Times/CBS News poll taken in mid-February showed 61 percent still oppose gay marriage.
In his comments Tuesday, Bush argued that amending the US Constitution was necessary to prevent the meaning of marriage "being changed forever."
Conservative groups have been lobbying for an amendment for months, amid a series of landmark court decisions that have sided with the gay rights lobby.
"We look forward to working alongside the president to see this amendment swiftly move through both houses of Congress," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
"Nothing short of an amendment will protect the institution of marriage from an out-of-control judiciary," Perkins said.
But John Langan, from Long Island, argued that legislation was already stacked against gays and lesbians, partly because of their inability to marry.
Langan's partner of 15 years died in hospital after suffering a broken leg in a hit-and-run accident. His attempts to sue for wrongful death were opposed by the hospital on the grounds that the couple were gay and unmarried, meaning Langan had no legal rights.
"My partner died tragically in the prime of our lives, and legally I was treated like a stranger to him," Langan said.
While many gays voiced anger, others confessed themselves dumbfounded by the rationale behind Bush's proposal.
"The thing that strikes me is I have yet to hear any coherent explanation as to how same-sex unions threaten heterosexual marriage," said Tim Dwyer, 38, a business consultant in New York.
"How, for example, can my 13-year relationship with someone of the same sex have an impact on your marriage or President Bush's marriage?" he said.
Kim Brinster, manager of New York's Oscar Wilde bookshop, which claims to be the world's oldest gay bookstore, saw a purely political motivation behind the president's proposal.
"I find it interesting that this is coming now, on the heels of the Iraqi fiasco and during an election year," Brinster said. "It's like he's saying, 'Let's really do a hot topic that will take the heat off other issues.'
"It's a huge move and a really hateful move," she added.
Jan Cadoret, a lesbian from San Francisco, said she felt it was "typical" of the Bush administration's right-wing agenda.
"I expected it. This president has done everything he can to take away people's rights from the beginning.
"I could care less about marriage," added the 48-year-old carpenter. "I don't care about emulating the heterosexual lifestyle. But this is supposed to be the land of freedom and equality, and gays should have the same rights as everyone else."
© Copyright 2004 AFP