updated 10/26/2004 4:05:21 PM ET 2004-10-26T20:05:21

Some conservative groups expressed dismay Tuesday over President Bush’s tolerance of state-sanctioned civil unions between gay people — laws that would grant same-sex partners most or all the rights available to married couples.

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“I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do so,” Bush said in an interview aired Tuesday on ABC. Bush acknowledged that his position put him at odds with the Republican platform, which opposes civil unions.

“I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights,” said Bush, who has pressed for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. “States ought to be able to have the right to pass laws that enable people to be able to have rights like others.”

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry backs civil unions for gay couples, too. He opposes gay marriage but also opposes the idea of a constitutional ban.

Some conservative organizations sharply disagreed with Bush and pressed him to seek a constitutional amendment that would ban both gay marriage and civil unions.

“Civil unions are a government endorsement of homosexuality,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women For America. “But I don’t think President Bush has thought about it in that way. He seems to be striving for neutrality while defending marriage itself.”

Knight said “counterfeits” of marriage, such as civil unions, “hurt the real thing.”

The head of another group, the Campaign for California Families, said it, too, wants a sweeping constitutional amendment that bars civil unions and same-sex marriage.

“Here’s the truth, civil unions are homosexual marriage by another name,” said Randy Thomasson, the group’s executive director. “Civil unions rob marriage of its uniqueness and award homosexuals all the rights of marriage available under state law.”

“Bush needs to understand what’s going on and resist counterfeit marriages with all his might no matter what they’re called,” Thomasson said.

But Matt Daniel, the leader of a coalition that successfully pressed for legislation that would create the constitutional ban on gay marriage, said Bush had staked out just the right position.

A federal ban on gay marriage, not on civil unions, “is the way for America to resolve this in the fairest way, the best way,” said Daniel, president of the Alliance for Marriage. “We do indeed support the president’s position.”

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