Furious over the Senate’s derailment of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, Religious Right radio guru James C. Dobson is going after senators who voted against it – attacking them on their home turf through full-page newspaper ads.
An announcement from Dobson’s Focus on the Family said the ads were being placed to spotlight the “egregious breach of trust” shown by senators who refused to back the constitutional change.
“We are placing these ads to hold these senators accountable for their votes – each and every one of them ignored the will of the overwhelming majority of their constituents,” Dobson said.
The ads are being paid for under the auspices of Dobson’s new 501(c)(4) political group, Focus on the Family Action. Organizations with this status are allowed to be more political than other tax-exempt charities, but donations to (c)(4) groups are not tax deductible.
In a July letter to supporters appealing for funds for the new FOF spin-off, Dobson insisted that a “virtual meltdown of the culture is underway” and asserted, “It’s time to play hardball!”
After weeks of back-room wrangling, Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed to hold a vote, not on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) itself, but on a procedural move that would have brought the amendment up for a vote on its merits. This agreement was struck because it was common knowledge in Washington that the amendment did not have the votes to pass, and the GOP leadership feared an embarrassing defeat.
The July 14 vote on the procedural maneuver required 60 votes to pass but fell short of that, garnering only 48.
The carefully staged vote was something of a face-saving measure for conservatives in the Senate. While polls show that a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, most also oppose amending the Constitution to ban it.
The Dobson attack on senators was seen mainly as a move against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who is locked in a tight re-election bid. Three other Democratic senators targeted by the ads – Harry Reid of Nevada, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas – are heavily favored to retain their seats in November with only token opposition. A fourth, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, is facing a more aggressive challenger but remains ahead in the polls. The lone Republican targeted by FOF Action, John Sununu of New Hampshire, isn’t even up for re-election this year.
The ad features a grim-faced young boy chastising the senators and urges voters to call them and express their disapproval. The ad placed in South Dakota newspapers asserted, “Senator Daschle’s vote is a slap in the face of every American child.”
A few weeks before the Senate showdown, Dobson spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he conceded that the chances of passing the amendment were slim. Asked if Jesus would advocate for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Dobson replied, “I certainly would not try to involve Jesus in any kind of political debate.”
After the vote, Religious Right activists struggled to put a positive spin on the outcome.
“We got 48, including three Democrats, which means the Federal Marriage Amendment is alive and well – and not on life support,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told the Baptist Press.
“It exceeded my expectations,” said Tony Perkins, president of the FOF-related Family Research Council. “I was extremely encouraged by the response of the church. Literally, the Senate was swamped for two days. Senators were bringing in temporary staff to answer phones. The message clearly got through.”
Pro-amendment Religious Right groups garnered support from the Roman Catholic bishops, who issued a statement in favor of the FMA. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a personal letter urging bishops to publicly support the measure and to ask their senators to do the same. USCCB officials also joined a pro-amendment press conference sponsored by the Alliance for Marriage