President Bush said that he could support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court last month struck down that state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying it is unconstitutional and giving state lawmakers six months to craft a way for gay couples to wed.
Mr. Bush has condemned the ruling before, citing his support for a federal definition of marriage as a solely man-woman union. On Tuesday, he criticized it as "a very activist court in making the decision it made."
"The court, I thought, overreached its bounds as a court," Mr. Bush said in a television interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "It did the job of the Legislature."
Previously, though Mr. Bush has said he would support whatever is "legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage," he and his advisers have shied away from specifically endorsing a constitutional amendment asserting that definition.
But on Tuesday, the president waded deeper into the topic, saying state rulings such as the one in Massachusetts and a couple of other states "undermine the sanctity of marriage" and could mean that "we may need a constitutional amendment."
"If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that," he said. "The position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long as it's embraced by the state or at the state level."
Mr. Bush said he believes his view on the topic does not make him intolerant.
"I do believe in the sanctity of marriage ... but I don't see that as conflict with being a tolerant person or an understanding person," he said.
His remarks drew criticism from gay rights groups.
"It is never necessary to insert prejudice and discrimination into the U.S. Constitution — a document that has a proud history of being used to expand an individual's liberty and freedom, not to take them away," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign.
The president also said that he — like any politician — could lose his next run for office, next year's bid for a second term in the White House.
"Everybody's beatable in a democracy," Mr. Bush said. "And that's the great thing about a democracy. People get to make that decision. I know how I'm voting."
Mr. Bush said he has not decided who would be in his Cabinet and other top administration posts — other than retaining Vice President Dick Cheney — if he is "fortunate enough" to win.
Mr. Bush reiterated that he doesn't read newspapers and prefers getting the news — without opinion, he said — from White House chief of staff Andrew Card and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. First Lady Laura Bush, who appeared briefly during the interview, said she does read the papers and often discusses them with her husband.
The president also said he doesn't watch reality television, but the Bushes both watch lots of sports on television and are hoping to see the movies "Something's Gotta Give" and "Elf" over the holidays.