Conservative religious groups announced Thursday that they plan to use the debate over gay marriage as a catalyst to register millions of voters. Organizers from more than two dozen groups--including the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Family Association, and the Christian Coalition--said they want to make gay marriage the number 1 social issue in the 2004 general election. They will also endorse the language of a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Polls suggest that the American public is closely divided on this question, with just over half supporting laws against gay marriage. The week of October 12 will be designated "marriage protection week."
The groups will issue church bulletins in over 70,000 churches, and Christian radio shows will schedule programming all week long on the issue. Conservatives are alarmed about a Canadian government proposal to allow gay marriages and pending court decisions on gay marriage in Massachusetts and New Jersey. "We want to make sure that homosexual marriage is not legal in this country," said Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative public policy organization. "If that takes getting congressmen out of the way who cannot support traditional marriage, that's what we'll do. This is the very underpinning of civilization. If we remove those foundations, our entire civilization will come crumbling down."
David Smith, a spokesman for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, has criticized the conservative groups for using gay marriage as a political rallying cry. "If these people want to demonize gay and lesbian families for electoral purposes, I think that will backfire," Smith said. "What they're trying to do is deny children raised in gay families the security of the legal structure provided by a civil marriage."