Religious Groups Oppose Marriage Amendment, As Senate Vote Nears

Representatives of some of the nation's leading religious groups joined forces in June to express opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) a Religious Right-led drive to alter the U.S. Constitution.

The letter, signed by 26 religious organizations representing millions of Americans, called for the defeat of the amendment, asserting that it would jeopardize religious liberty by taking the view of marriage favored by some denominations and writing that into law.

The amendment would declare that marriage in the United States consists "only of the union of a man and a woman." That language would exclude weddings for same-sex couples that are performed by some denominations.

"It is not the task of our government and elected representatives to enshrine in our laws the religious point of view of any one faith," the religious leaders' letter reads. "Rather, our government should dedicate itself to protecting the rights of all citizens and all faiths."

FMA advocates often frame their arguments in religious terminology. The FMA's sponsor in the House of Representatives, Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), recently suggested that marriage should consist only of a man and a woman because it is God's created order. In a recent letter about the FMA, Religious Right leader James Dobson told supporters, "Marriage is a sacrament designed by God that serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His Church."

In the anti-FMA letter to Congress, the religious groups charge that altering the Constitution would undermine religious freedom for all.

"For over two hundred years, the Constitution has had no provision on marriage, the matter being left to the states and the teachings of various religious groups," the letter states. "Our nation's founders adopted the First Amendment precisely because they foresaw the dangers posed by allowing government to have control over religious decisions. The religious freedom protected by the First Amendment has allowed religious practice and pluralism to flourish. Respecting the rights of those in the faith community who deem sacred text consistent with the blessing of the same-sex relationships protects and ensures that freedom."

The letter concludes, "We strongly believe that Congress must continue to protect the nation's fundamental religious freedoms and continue to protect our nation's bedrock principle of respecting religious pluralism. Congress should soundly reject any attempt to enshrine into the Constitution a particular religious viewpoint on a matter of such fundamental religious importance."

Signers included: the Alliance of Baptists; the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers); the American Jewish Committee; the Anti-Defamation League; the Central Conference of American Rabbis; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Christians for Justice Action; Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ); Episcopal Church, USA; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers); Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (Sikhs); Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; Loretto Women's Network (Catholic Order); National Conference for Community and Justice; National Council of Jewish Women; National Sikh Center; Metropolitan Community Churches; Protestant Justice Action; Sikh Council on Religion and Education; The Interfaith Alliance; Union for Reform Judaism; the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries and Women of Reform Judaism.

Religious Right organizations have been pushing the amendment since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized marriages for same-sex couples in that state last year. The marriages began taking place in May, but the predicted backlash has yet to emerge.

In fact, indications are that the Religious Right is having trouble getting people motivated over the issue. The Washington Post reported June 20 that public indifference puzzles some Religious Right leaders. One conservative pastor in Virginia went so far as to comment, "There's quite a bit of lethargy in the pews. By and large, it's a lay-down-and-roll-over-and-play-dead attitude."

Despite the lack of enthusiasm, Religious Right forces are working furiously, and their allies in the Senate plan to schedule a vote on the FMA in July. It's widely acknowledged that conservatives know they lack the votes to pass the measure but hope to put Democratic senators, including presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, in an uncomfortable position.

Religious Right activist William Murray reported that the vote will take place the week on July 12-16.

"Will Senator Kerry vote?" he asked. "My bet is he will not show up. If he votes pro-homosexual the soccer moms are mad and if he votes for traditional marriage he gets no more money from the gay Hollywood crowd. This will be an interesting vote just before an election."