President Bush wants to change the U.S. Constitution to prevent same-sex marriage. From the White House, Mr. Bush says he is troubled by thousands of same-sex unions that have taken place this month.
President Bush says there is an overwhelming consensus in America to defend the institution of marriage from what he says is an aggressive attempt to redefine it.
"After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and a millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization," he said. "Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity."
Mr. Bush says amending the Constitution should never be taken lightly, but preserving marriage rises to this level of national importance because he says it is the most enduring human institution.
"Today, I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as the union of a man and woman as husband and wife," the president said.
Mr. Bush says states should still be free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage. That would preserve the use of so-called civil unions between same-sex couples which give them some legal protections.
"America is a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens," he said. "This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities."
Mr. Bush called on the nation to conduct what he called this difficult debate without bitterness or anger, matching strong convictions with kindness and good will and decency.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the president is acting to end what he called the growing confusion over court decisions in Massachusetts and California permitting same-sex unions. More than 3,000 gays and lesbians have been married under those decisions, which are still facing legal challenges.
President Bush says protecting marriage between a man and a woman requires changing the Constitution because an existing federal law barring states from forcing other states to recognize gay marriage might be overturned.
Gay-rights activists say the law violates their Constitutional guarantee of equal rights by discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation.