Galvanized by a Massachusetts ruling on Tuesday allowing gay marriage in that state, representatives from half a dozen conservative groups met in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to plan a national strategy to counter it, focusing their initial efforts on a federal 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 overcome the ruling by the state's highest court but also 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 U.S. Constitution. Such a move would require passage by two thirds of the House and Senate and three fourths of the states, but the groups said they were bolstered by polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage.
Republican members of Congress met on Wednesday to discuss the language for an amendment and whether to introduce it before the Senate adjourns, which is expected early next week. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is expected to steer the issue in the Senate, while Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) is expected to lead it in the House.
But several top Republicans who have indicated sympathy for the idea of limiting the designation of marriage to unions of a man and a woman stopped short of calling for an amendment, apparently concerned about alienating some moderates. For example, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, said an amendment should be a last resort. "As a basic philosophical point, he doesn't like amending the Constitution," his spokesman, Stuart Roy, said.
Still, conservative groups said an important part of their strategy would be to lobby Congress and the White House for the amendment and to convince the Massachusetts legislature to override Tuesday's ruling. By a 4-3 vote, the court found that gay marriages were permissible under the state constitution and gave lawmakers 180 days to pass enabling legislation.
The lobbying campaign is to include extensive use of fund-raising on the Internet, appeals through direct mail, and support on talk radio, which was afire Wednesday 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 Concerned Women for America, a conservative religious policy group, declared on her radio program, which reaches 1 million listeners. 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 the groups discussed on Wednesday includes drawing in those opposed not only to gay marriage but also to what many conservatives perceive as excessive judicial activism. Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel who appeared as a guest on Rios's 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."