About 5,500 people attended a "Rally for Traditional Marriage" in Mississippi on Sunday, where speakers argued that the United States should not allow same-sex unions. The event, at the BancorpSouth Center in Tupelo, was organized by more than 50 northeast Mississippi church leaders. "Every attempt to redefine marriage is an attempt to undermine the foundation and faith of this nation," said Forrest Sheffield, pastor of Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo. Gary Bauer, a former Reagan administration domestic policy adviser who's now the chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, said Americans "are fighting two wars"--against terrorism and for traditional values. "It is not bigotry to believe marriage is between a man and a woman," he said, garnering thunderous applause.
Attendees saw a three-minute video of President Bush's presentation to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting last month, in which he pledged support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The amendment was defeated in the U.S. Senate last week. U.S. representative Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) praised "a mom and a dad involved in their family" as the best program against social ills. He said redefining marriage would cheapen it, leading to lower marriage rates among heterosexuals and more children living without benefit of both parents. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for Christians in America to speak," he said. Noting that the next president will likely appoint several Supreme Court justices, he urged audience members to "vote prayerfully, vote carefully."
The Reverend William Owens of Memphis, president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, said advocates of same-sex marriage have "pirated" the civil rights movement. "I was born black, and I'm going to die black," he said. "I didn't choose to be black; they're choosing to do what they're doing." About a dozen protesters stood outside the BancorpSouth Center, holding signs that read "Hate is not a family value," "I support same-sex marriage," and "Love makes a marriage, not gender." One of the protesters, Stormey Billiot of Baldwyn, said, "Marriage should be a choice and not a law. It doesn't matter what sex you are, as long as there's love."