Politically active Christians, among others, say marriage is the next great social issue for the church in North America. "I think we're on the front side of another Roe v. Wade," Bill Murray, spokesman for the Family Research Council, told Christianity Today. "It's definitely going to be the biggest issue during the election."

Leaders say the issue transcends political ideology.

"Every once in a while, a great nation has to deal with a great issue," American Values president Gary Bauer said at an October press conference in Washington, where 24 founding members of the Coalition to Protect Marriage made their case. "Millions of people understand that it's not bigotry to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Spurred by pro-gay court rulings in Canada, the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence and Garner v. Texas decision, and last week's Massachusetts' Supreme Court ruling, the coalition is using radio and television broadcasts, daily e-mails, and two websites (MarriageProtectionWeek.com and nogaymarriage.com) to urge citizens to contact their elected representatives.

On another website (protectmarriage.org), the Family Research Council has included a sample sermon and talking points. FRC also is distributing a Marriage Protection Pledge it will ask all federal and state elected officials to sign.

"Americans cannot defend politicians who will not defend marriage," said Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America.

Marriage defenders already have one high-profile ally: George W. Bush. The President declared October 12-18 as Marriage Protection Week. In his proclamation, Bush said, "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman."

In reaction, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said, "In a desperate move to attract the right-wing base of his party, Bush has again aligned himself with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and right-wing organizations such as the Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council."

Opponents of homosexual marriage say it would weaken civilization and open the door to many other social arrangements, such as polygamy.

"What abortion is to human life, marriage is to human culture," said Focus on the Family's Glenn Stanton. "Marriage is a non-negotiable thing for human civilization."

Many Americans are leery of gay marriage. A Wirthlin Worldwide poll of 1,000 adults released by the Alliance for Marriage last March reported that 62 percent of Americans believe marriage should be the legal union of a man and a woman. Of traditionally strong Democratic voting blocks, 63 percent of Hispanics and 62 percent of African Americans supported a constitutional amendment to that effect.

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Amending the Constitution

The nonpartisan Alliance for Marriage drafted the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) three years ago. It reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Supporters of an amendment have different agendas on whether to seek broader language specifically banning civil unions, which some groups say constitute marriage in all but name. Vincent McCarthy, director of the Center for Marriage Law of New Milford, Connecticut, said there is a "legitimate difference of opinion" over whether the amendment would allow for same-sex unions and domestic partnerships in the states.

Some Federal Marriage Amendment backers feel the amendment's current wording does not go far enough in preventing civil unions. On October 1, a coalition of conservative, pro-traditional family organizations known as the Arlington Group overwhelmingly voted to support stronger language. The Arlington Group, headed by Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, met again in mid-October.

"There is unanimous support in pro-family groups that this needs to be strengthened," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America. "States could have faux marriage. This is what's happening in Vermont and California" where the state legislatures have voted to grant the benefits of marriage to domestic partners. "We want to protect the institution of marriage, not just the name."

The proposed change would add a sentence that reads: "Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of non-marital sexual conduct or relationships."

Other activists say this language would be a deal-killer, including AFM's Matt Daniels.

"There is no way that could be ratified, ever," he said. "It is politically dead, a failure."

A high-ranking senatorial aide said that the new wording invalidating civil unions is "a political impossibility" in the Senate.

The debate among conservatives over whether or how hard to push for broader language is "the key question right now," said Stanton. "We as a community have had a hard time finding a good balance between principle and pragmatism."

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Fighting words

Support for a marriage amendment crosses the political aisle. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) has 96 House cosponsors for a proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, although only seven are Democrats. Cosponsors in the House include Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Ralph Hall (D-Texas), Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), and David Vitter (R-La.).

Still, Democratic Party leaders appear poised to fight a marriage amendment in any form. In October, McAuliffe assailed what he called a strategy "to repeal hundreds of laws enacted by state legislatures to provide basic benefits and rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans."

Nonetheless, the proposed amendment, which does not include the new language, would need to be approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate and ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states.

The new language has been presented to Musgrave, who told ct that she is "meeting with the groups concerned about this, and we will be getting the best language possible."

An eye on Massachusetts

Activists say the debate will only intensify now that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health-a ruling that has forced the legislature to decide how to provide for gay marriages. With the adverse decision in Goodridge, said a Senate aide, the Senate may have the momentum to pass the amendment.

The amendment has yet to be introduced in the Senate. Without an adverse decision in Goodridge, said a Senate aide, the Senate likely would lack the momentum to pass the amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has publicly endorsed it.

The Goodridge ruling may also prove critical in Republicans' decision to include a marriage plank in their national platform. Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie told The Washington Times in September that such a plank "would be in the form of a proposed amendment to the Constitution" and would define marriage as a monogamous, heterosexual union.

Related Elsewhere

Other CT articles on the marriage amendment include:

Christian Conservatives Split on Federal Marriage Amendment | Law would protect marriage from courts, but legislatures could still extend marital benefits to same-sex unions. (June 20, 2002)
Defining Marriage | Conservatives advocate amendment to preserve traditional matrimony. (Oct. 1, 2001)
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Marriage in the Dock | Massachusetts case on gay marriage could set off chain reaction. (April 25, 2003)
The Next Sexual Revolution | By practicing what it preaches on marriage, the church could transform society. (Aug. 27, 2003)
The Marriage Battle Begins | Profamily and gay activists agree: Texas decision sets significant precedent. (Aug. 11, 2003)
Does Lawrence v. Texas Signal the End of the American Family? | Evangelicals may not agree on antisodomy laws, but they're all concerned about what the Supreme Court's decision of them means. (June 30, 2003)

Past Christianity Today coverage of same-sex marriage includes:

Church Federation in the Netherlands Closes in on Blessing Same-Sex Unions | Three months after country recognized gay matrimony, proposal suggests distinguishing between "life unions" and marriage. (July 19, 2001)
No Balm in Denver | Episcopalians defer debate over same-sex blessings for another three years. (July 17, 2001)
Marriage Laws Embroil Legislatures | New Englanders push for domestic-partner benefits. (April 26, 2001)
Australia's Church Leader's Views on Sexuality Ignite Controversy | Head of country's Anglicans calls for blessing of same-sex "friendships." (April 26, 2001)
Churches Divided Over Amsterdam's Same-Sex Weddings | April 1 midnight ceremony said to be world's first official gay wedding.(April 10, 2001)
Presbyterians Propose Ban on Same-Sex Ceremonies | Change to church constitution, which passes by only 17 votes, now goes to presbyteries. (July 5, 2001)
Sticking With the Status Quo | United Methodists reject gay marriage, ordination. (May 15, 2000)
Presbyterians Vote Down Ban on Same-Sex Unions | Opponents say vague wording led to defeat. (March 29, 2001)
Vermont House Approves Civil Unions (April 24, 2000)
Vermont House Approves Civil Unions for Homosexual Couples | Amended bill defines 'marriage' as heterosexual (March 27, 2000)
States Discuss Marriage Laws (February 7, 2000)
States Consider Laws on Same-Sex Unions California to vote on 'limit on marriage' in March (Jan. 10, 1999)
Presbyterians Support Same-Sex Unions (Dec. 10, 1999)
Pastor Suspended in Test of Same-Sex Marriage Ban (Apr. 26, 1999)
Same-Sex Rites Cause Campus Stir (Aug. 11, 1997)
State Lawmakers Scramble to Ban Same-Sex Marriages (Feb. 3, 1997)
Clinton Signs Law Backing Heterosexual Marriage (Oct. 28, 1996)

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