President Bush plans to spend $1.5 billion to promote marriage among low-income couples in a move expected to win favor among religious conservatives in an election year, according to a report the New York Times.
Quoting administration officials, the story in Wednesday's editions said the president is weighing whether to mention the effort in next week's State of the Union address.
The measure is timely because of concern over traditional marriage fueled by a November ruling by Massachusetts' highest court that the state constitution doesn't forbid gay marriage.
"This is a way for the president to address the concerns of conservatives and to solidify his conservative base," the Times quoted an unnamed presidential adviser as saying.
It also could increase Bush's standing among "compassionate conservatives," another voting bloc he pursued in the 2000 election.
The push may not be enough to satisfy some conservative groups pushing the president use his State of the Union address to champion a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, however. Bush has said he would support such an amendment if necessary.
"Marriage is facing a clear and present danger in the United States and now that Massachusetts is on the brink of allowing homosexual 'marriage' the time for the administration to announce their support for a federal marriage amendment is now," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
A moderate Baptist ethicist, meanwhile, said marriage should not be used as a political wedge.
"Strengthening the institution of marriage is a much needed and worthy cause. But pitching this as a vote-getting initiative in an election year cheapens its value and promises to breed even more cynicism about our government," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. "Promoting healthy marriages should not be politicized."
The president's plan would fund activities like advertising campaigns promoting marriage, training in marriage skills and mentoring programs using married couples as role models, according to the Times articles.
Any money from the initiative would go toward helping only heterosexual couples. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act limits the use of federal funds to programs than define marriage as a legal union between a man and woman as husband and wife.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.