WASHINGTON (ABP) — Despite a first-round defeat for the Federal Marriage Amendment July 14, proponents vowed to continue fighting and say they expect to win.
Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, a coalition of Christian and other groups that has led the fight for the FMA, said the Senate's 48-50 decision to end consideration of the amendment will only spur “democratic debate” on the topic.
“We introduced our marriage amendment in both the House and Senate in order to let the people decide the future of marriage,” Daniels said in a statement. “And our amendment will continue to gain ground so long as activists continue to strike down our marriage laws in court.”
A ruling last year by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which legalized gay marriage in that state, triggered the current constitutional debate. Gay-marriage opponents say only an amendment to the U.S. Constitution will protect other states from having to accept gay marriages.
“Marriage, the union of one man and one woman, has always been recognized as the foundation of human society, but today marriage is sadly in need of protection,” said Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement after the Senate vote. “It is a shame that the Senate did not have the opportunity to vote on this amendment that is so necessary to the well-being of our nation.”
In the week leading up to the vote, supporters of the amendment waged an intensive lobbying campaign. The Family Research Council reportedly delivered petitions to the Senate signed by 2 million supporters of traditional marriage.
Ten thousand people gathered July 11 for a “Battle for Marriage” rally in Memphis. The rally, featuring top Religious Right leaders, was held at Bellevue Baptist Church, one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations, and broadcast on Christian cable channels.
Rally speaker James Dobson, Focus on the Family founder, predicted the outcome of the Senate vote. “We may not win this week … [but] we're not going to go away and we're not going to forget,” Baptist Press reported. “We're going to remember in November.”
Rally speakers urged Christians to contact their senators prior to the vote and support the amendment. And they did just that.
The Washington Post reported July 13 that Senate offices “were deluged with phone calls and e-mails prompted by heavy grass-roots mobilizations over the weekend, topped off by two appeals for passage by President Bush.”
A spokesman for Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), an amendment proponent, told Associated Baptist Press that the public response was unprecedented. “Sen. Brownback has received more thoughts on this issue than any other issue during his time in the Senate, especially over the last few days,” said Aaron Groote.
Likewise, Chris Lisi, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.), an amendment opponent, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “We haven't seen this kind of grass-roots lobbying effort since the Iraq war.”
And, according to Larry Thompson, a staff member of Bellevue Baptist Church, the lobbying effort won't stop with the Senate defeat. “We are still encouraging our people to contact their Congress members and show their appreciation for their votes or disapproval if they voted against [the FMA],” he told ABP July 14.
But supporters of gay marriage likewise promised to continue the fight.
“[Our effort] springs from a deep commitment to a biblical understanding of justice, a commitment to fairness,” said Daniel Pryfogle, interim director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, which supports gay and lesbian rights. “We want everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, to enjoy the same rights in this country,” Pryfogle told ABP.
“There's relief at this stage that the bill will not go forward,” Pryfogle said, “but at the same time we know a lot of organizing is going on to push this kind of legislation. We aim to do what we can to oppose these efforts. … One of the most important things underway is proclamation — churches preaching a message about fairness and justice.”
Laura Montgomery Rutt, director of communications for Soulforce, an interfaith pro-gay group, complained supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment are using gays and lesbians as “political pawns” in an election-year strategy. “To have this come up just before the elections shows that the religious-political conservatives are playing politics with people's lives. … This is simply wrong.”
But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the Senate vote is “just round one in the debate over marriage, and now that it is over we begin training for round two. We now know which senators are for traditional marriage and which ones are not, and by November, so will voters in every state. … This fight has just begun.”
— Rob Marus and Sandi Villarreal contributed to this story.