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Bush Urges Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Missouri's Cool to Gay Nuptials, but It's No Burning Issue

Voters in this swing state favor Bush's stand but are more concerned with jobs, war in Iraq.

February 25, 2004|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

TOWN AND COUNTRY, Mo. — It was clear the moment they started talking about it that George and Teresa Kern have been around and around on this one.

"I have no problem with gay people getting married," Teresa, 66, declared. "It's their business. No one else's."

Her husband winced. "Because of the way I was brought up, I still feel that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. That's where I come from," George, 69, said.

He could see Teresa was not convinced. "If they called it something else other than marriage, maybe I would be OK with that," he offered.

His wife was having none of it. "They're just as good as we are," she said. "They should have the same rights."

Their tiff in the lighting aisle of a suburban Home Depot store echoed the broader debate across the nation Tuesday as President Bush announced he would push a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Here in the political swing state of Missouri, considered a top prize in the 2004 presidential election, voters overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage. They also solidly back the concept of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

A statewide poll in late January found that 62% of Missouri voters oppose granting same-sex couples the same benefits as married pairs. And 53% favor a constitutional amendment, according to the poll, which was conducted by the St. Louis Post Dispatch and television station KMOV.

That puts Missouri -- which narrowly supported Bush in the 2000 election -- on the conservative side compared with the nation as a whole. A majority of Americans oppose gay and lesbian marriage, but polls indicate that less than 40% support a constitutional change.

An ABC News--Washington Post survey last month found that six in 10 Americans prefer to let states define marriage on their own.

A majority of Missouri voters, by contrast, would welcome a federal standard like the one Bush has endorsed.

But that doesn't mean that Bush has an automatic edge on his Democratic rival here in the heartland come November.

Even in this community of 11,000 -- which overwhelmingly backed Bush in the last election -- voters made it clear that gay marriage is not high on their list of concerns as they weigh presidential candidates.

They're far more interested, they said, in hearing detailed proposals to create jobs, make healthcare more affordable and improve education. They're also upset with the course of the war in Iraq -- and some are hoping a new commander in chief might turn things around.

"I got to church on Sunday and I read my Bible, and my point of view is that marriage should be a man and a woman, so I'm for what Bush is saying," said Ray Spavale, 64. "But I might vote for [Massachusetts Sen. John F.] Kerry this time around. Bush jumped into the war in Iraq too soon. I don't like to see our young men dying."

"It would take a lot more than this one issue to make me vote for Bush," said Carolyn Baynes, 70, a retired credit specialist who supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Interviews with two dozen shoppers Tuesday in this well-off suburb west of St. Louis found passions running high on the subject of gay and lesbian marriage. Just about everyone had an opinion -- and a vehement one -- on whether the state should sanction same-sex unions.

Yet many also expressed ambivalence about turning their private, often religiously rooted, beliefs into a political crusade.

"I'm a Christian girl, and I know what the Bible says about marriage," said Tina DiBianca, 37, a cosmetologist. "But I also know that the Bible says: 'Judge not.' A gay marriage shouldn't be done in church. God wouldn't want that. But I'm not opposed to people having rights. They can't help what they feel."

She still has not decided, she said, whether an amendment is necessary.

Construction contractor Robert Diamante has made up his mind: Much as he recoils from the idea of same-sex marriage, he does not want to tamper with the Constitution. He's uneasy with the federal government imposing a value system on its citizens -- even a value system he happens to agree with.

"This is America," said Diamante, 39. "People can live their own lives."

Like George Kern, several people sought a middle ground: They said they could endorse civil unions or domestic partnerships that gave gay and lesbian couples full rights. It's just the term "marriage" that makes them uneasy.

"I don't have any desire to see gays and lesbians get lesser protection, but marriage has a particular historical and cultural meaning," said Mark Cook, 45, a psychologist.

"The word has always meant a relationship between a guy and a gal. That's just what marriage is," Joe Miller, 56, an engineer, said in agreement.

Over at Wal-Mart, however, Ruth Ruprecht looked up from a stack of toasters to say she couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. A retired educator, Ruprecht, 73, said she figured gay marriage was inevitable -- a concept she, like much of America, would have to learn to accept.

"We're breaking a new frontier," Ruprecht said. "You object for a little while, but you get used to it. This is a way of life now. It's going to happen."

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