Senate to revisit same-sex marriage

Hope for a ban unites many faiths

June 05, 2006|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

At the end of February, while Washington was preoccupied with the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in Iraq and the planned transfer of port operations in six U.S. cities to a company from the United Arab Emirates, leaders of several of the nation's most influential religious groups came together for an unusual meeting at the Army and Navy Club.

The uncommonly ecumenical gathering included Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, Roman Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia; the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Also present were leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church, the predominantly black Church of God in Christ and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, among others.

All had worked within their own faith groups against the acceptance of same-sex marriage. Many had spoken in support of the proposed constitutional amendment two years ago to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

With Congress due to revisit the issue, they were coordinating their efforts. As the U.S. Senate this week takes up what is now called the Marriage Protection Amendment, and with President Bush planning to promote the measure in Washington today, senators are likely feeling a new level of pressure from the nation's religious conservatives.

Supporters acknowledge that the proposal is unlikely to gain the two-thirds majority needed to move an amendment forward this week, but several say that interreligious cooperation will be crucial to eventual victory.

"This really has brought people together," said Princeton law professor Robert P. George, who helped organize that initial meeting. "It's taught people that they have a lot more in common than what divides them, including their devotion to marriage and family. It's crucial to the success of the amendment."

The Christian organization Focus on the Family is running newspaper advertisements in 13 key states, urging constituents to contact senators believed to be possible "yes" votes. Focus founder James Dobson devoted three installments of his daily radio show last week to mobilizing an audience of 7 million to 8 million.

The Family Research Council was offering sermons for "Family Protection Sunday" yesterday. The Catholic organization Knights of Columbus has distributed 10 million postcards for parishioners to fill out and send to their senators.

The effort has united antagonists as never before.

"The issue of traditional marriage crosses a lot of denominational lines," University of Akron political scientist John C. Green said. "There's a lot of religious groups that can't agree on the nature of God and how to read the Scripture and where heaven is, but can all agree that marriage ought to stay the way it is."

Faith-based opponents of the amendment also are speaking out. Leaders in liberal denominations are preaching acceptance of gays and lesbians. Several, including representatives of the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Union of Reform Judaism, have joined together as Clergy for Fairness to urge senators to reject the measure.

"Although we have differing opinions on rights for same-sex couples," they said in a statement, "we believe the Federal Marriage Amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation's many religious traditions."

But among the faithful, support for the amendment has been louder than opposition.

"Religious conservatives are better organized than people on the other side," said Green, an author of Religion and the Culture Wars: Dispatches from the Front. "A lot of the voices that might be opposed to the amendment aren't engaged in mass mobilization."

Even with that organization -- and the backing of Bush, who devoted his weekly radio address Saturday to the subject -- many supporters say they have a long-term view.

"Americans have always acted as religious people," George said. "If you look at the antislavery movement, if you look at the temperance movement, if you look at the civil rights movement ... it's hard to imagine any social movement in America ultimately being successful without the participation of religious people acting on their faith convictions."

Religious leaders say their bases have been energized by court decisions that have struck down state amendments banning same-sex marriage. In Georgia last month, a state judge overturned on procedural grounds a measure approved by 76 percent of voters in 2004. In Nebraska last year, a federal judge ruled that an amendment that passed with more than 70 percent of the vote in 2000 interfered with the rights of gay couples.

Pat Korten, who has spearheaded the postcard drive for the Knight of Columbus, said those decisions show the need for a constitutional amendment.

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