Conservatives plan attack on same-sex marriage

Mass. ruling galvanizes half a dozen groups

November 20, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Galvanized by a Massachusetts court ruling Tuesday allowing gay marriage, representatives from half a dozen conservative groups met here yesterday to plan an aggressive national strategy to counteract it, focusing their initial efforts on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

From Capitol Hill to talk-radio stations and Internet sites, conservatives seized on the issue, which for many has supplanted abortion as the most important battle in the nation's cultural wars. They said they were determined not only to turn back the court ruling but to take other steps to prevent advocates of gay rights from making gains.

As a start, they said they would lobby for efforts already under way for an amendment to the Constitution, which would require passage by two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states. But they were bolstered by polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage.

Republican members of Congress met yesterday to discuss the possible language in such an amendment and whether to introduce it before the Senate adjourns, which is expected early next week.

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is expected to lead the issue in the Senate, while Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave is expected to lead it in the House.

But several top Republicans who indicated sympathy for the idea of of limiting the designation of marriage to relationships involving one man and one woman, stopped short of calling for an amendment, apparently fearful of alienating some moderates.

For example, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, said that amending the Constitution should be used only as a last resort.

"As a basic philosophical point, he doesn't like amending the Constitution," said his spokesman, Stuart Roy.

Nonetheless, conservative organizations said an important part of their strategy would be a drive to lobby Congress and the White House for the amendment and to convince the legislature in Massachusetts to turn back Tuesday's ruling.

That ruling, by the state's highest court, said that gay marriage was permissible under the state constitution and gave the legislature 180 days to figure out what to do.

The lobbying campaign will include extensive use of fund raising on the Internet, appeals through direct mail and support on talk radio, which was afire yesterday with discussion of the ruling and how to fight it.

"We will equip you, we'll help you organize to fight back on this issue," Sandy Rios, president of the Concerned Women for America, a conservative religious policy group, declared on her radio program, which reaches 1 million listeners.

Her group was one of the half-dozen conservative organizations that met here yesterday to plan a strategy.

She added: "The time is now. If you don't do something about this, then you cannot in 20 years - when you see the American public disintegrating and you see our enemies overtaking us because we have no moral will. You remember that you did nothing."

The strategy discussed yesterday includes drawing in those opposed not only to gay marriage but also to what many conservatives perceive as judicial activism run amok.

Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who appeared as a guest on Rios' radio program, said: "This is a terrible judicial usurpation of the power of the people through their elected representatives to fashion social policy. It really is quite revolutionary."

Anticipating the Massachusetts ruling, two dozen conservative groups that oppose gay marriage met here last week and agreed on three elements that they wanted to see in a constitutional amendment.

Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of the groups, said they had agreed that such an amendment should ban same-sex marriage, ban same-sex unions and ban homosexuals from receiving benefits of any such unions.

His organization's Web site urges people to "join with TVC in the war against those who are trying to strip away Christian Morality from American Society."

Sheldon also said his coalition was encouraging Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who has already indicated his support for a state ban on gay marriage.

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