Transcript: Elizabeth Birch on Fox News Sunday

The following is a transcribed excerpt from "Fox News Sunday," Aug. 3, 2003.


BUSH: I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that.


HUME: That, of course, President Bush (search) joining the growing debate about same-sex marriage, which, as you heard, strong words supporting traditional marriage.

Also this week, the Vatican released a document on homosexual unions, warning Catholic politicians that they have a, quote, "Moral duty to express opposition clearly and publicly, and to vote against it."

Continuing, "To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral," end quote. The document went on to say, "Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."

Joining us now on one side of the same-sex marriage issue is Elizabeth Birch (search), executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (search).

Good morning, thank you for being here.


HUME: Let me show you something else the president said, and ask you to interpret it -- see how you interpret it.


BUSH: I am mindful that we're all sinners. And I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor's eye when they got a log in their own.

I think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country. On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage.


HUME: How do you interpret what the president was getting at there in that answer?

BIRCH: I think what the president was trying to do is to send a message of moral leadership, and live and let live.

The problem is is when he says we are all sinners, some people sin by their acts. I think what he was saying, perhaps, you know, one can extrapolate that one is a sinner simply because you exist as gay.

Gay people have always, always been part of the American family. We've always served in wars, we pay our taxes. We've always been here, we will always be here.

I think the issue for the president, and for going forward, looking at all the laws, we have to remember, we're debating gay marriage in a context when there is not a single federal law that takes care of gay people in any way: not in terms of employment, Social Security, inheritance; you name it, we're not covered.

HUME: You mean it doesn't take care -- well, you're covered generally but not specifically. Well, you're as covered by the Constitution as I am, are you not?

BIRCH: You're not right, Brit. You can be fired today in 36 states simply because you're gay. It is perfectly legal.

So getting back, I think what the president was trying to say is, "Let's be fair and good as a people, but this goes too far."

And I would encourage the president and the American people -- because this is a very controversial issue, people are grappling with it, and I want to acknowledge that. No gay person, and no gay institution I know would ever say that anyone should interfere with a sacred religious ritual, and a religious institution's ability to decide who should marry and when.

What we're talking about is a secular licensing scheme that exists, from which flow very important things. A marriage license -- license, not having anything to do with the religious part of marriage -- allows someone to automatically be able to visit their partner, their beloved in a hospital if they're dying or recovering; it allows for Social Security; it allows me to leave my estate, whatever that might be, to my partner through inheritance laws. There's a myriad of large and small practical implications that flow from that license.

HUME: And the question I have for you, then, is this: Is what you're seeking here the right to gay marriage? Or are you seeking something less than that: civil unions that would embody some of the benefits or some of the rights you just described? Which is it?

BIRCH: Let's focus on this, because we're living in a time when there is absolutely not a single federal law that addresses anything, employment, et cetera, as I said.

If we were able to get civil unions, every step is monumental. It is incredible each time a state or the federal government takes a step.

There's a couple of practical problems with not calling it a marriage license, and why we keep focusing back on the word "marriage," however controversial is this.

HUME: Let me concede the point that there are some practical problems with that, for the sake of argument. What I want to get to is political -- I want to ask you a political question.


HUME: The latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll suggests that there's been a shift in public attitudes toward not just -- excuse me, Gallup poll, on this issue. In May, Gallup found dead-even sentiment, 49-49, on whether gay couples should legally form civil unions, with some of the rights of married couples.

HUME: Now in July, when that poll was taken, that sentiment has sharply changed -- I think you'd agree -- 57/40 said no. So the question I have as a political matter, is the American public ready to go along with this idea of gay marriage when a majority now seems to be ready to resist even civil unions?

BIRCH: Yes. I think that we're at a moment in time. And what you have to look at is the trending over the last 10, 20 years, Brit.

The American, sort of, muscle for fairness is amazing. And it's very, very resilient. You're picking up what is happening in the middle of, sort of, a shock wave of a controversial issue, and there's no question.

But I think ...

HUME: No question?

BIRCH: ... there is no question that the American people are grappling with this. And there is, you know, a feeling of, "I don't want to go there."

HUME: Yes, resistance.

BIRCH: But the fact is when you take all of the elements of marriage, the things I've described -- hospital visitation, inheritance, Social Security, pensions and so on -- the American people are amazing. It's well over 50 percent. Sometimes it's 70 and 75 percent.

What people are hung up on is the word "marriage." And what I'm trying to say is try to separate the religious from the secular or civil and that license opens up a world of fairness that people should at least consider.

You know, this is not a Republican issue, it's not a Democratic issue. You brought up politics. Someone said, "Oh, this is now going to split the Democratic Party." That's ridiculous.

HUME: You know, I think in a sense you could make an argument that it has united the Democratic Party, at least in terms of its presidential candidates, because every single one of them -- of the first and second-tier candidates anyway -- seems to be united in opposition to gay marriage.

BIRCH: Exactly, exactly. And all Republicans, I mean obviously, the president, now I think...

HUME: So is it wise to support it at this time?

BIRCH: Now, I think ...

HUME: That's my question, from your point of view.

BIRCH: My -- I think our point of view is that we are experiencing a confluence of events coming over the border from Canada. We're not -- we're talking about it. We're trying to educate on it. This issue has been delivered up by history.

And let me say this, we're living at a time -- we should remember the '92 convention -- the Republican convention, where that aura of discrimination did not serve President Bush Sr., very well at all.

I think what this president needs to do is say, "What can I do to formulate laws and policies that are fair and equal?"

HUME: I'm still not clear with you though, whether it has to be the right to gay marriage, or whether something less than that would be satisfactory to the organizations and the people you represent.

BIRCH: Right. And I'm trying to encourage you to do is to de-couple religious marriage and to think of it as a license. And a marriage license is what is necessary to truly address this issue, but never, ever interfering with the right of a religious institution to set their own course.

We're living in time when we have a vice president with a gay daughter. Gay people -- you know, inevitably the American people are thinking, "I have a cousin, I have a brother."

Gay people are in family life now. And I think the issue is what do we do as a nation? What laws can we pass at the federal level or at the state level, that would allow couples to have stability and to bring more assurance that more children in America, the children in gay families are being taken care of?

HUME: Elizabeth Birch, thank you very much for coming.

BIRCH: Thank you, Brit.

HUME: We'll have another side of the issue with Rick Santorum, senator from Pennsylvania, after a quick break.