Focus on the Family leader James C. Dobson is working hard to mobilize the Religious Right's grassroots troops to win approval for a federal marriage amendment.
Last month, Dobson traveled to Clackamas, Ore., where he used battlefield imagery to energize more than 2,000 pastors.
"This is the Waterloo, this is the Gettysburg," Dobson said. "If lost, it will be like a mirror shattered. Once it's broken, it will not be able to be repaired."
Dobson told the pastors that they are responsible for what happens to American culture, asserting that only church leaders can engage in "pulling us back from the precipice."
The Portland Oregonian reported that the gathering was sponsored by the Defense of Marriage Coalition, a group of Oregon clergy who formed after government officials in Multnomah County began giving marriage licenses to gay couples in March.
"This isn't something we wanted to do," Pastor Ray Cotton of the New Hope Community Church told the Oregonian. "This is something we had to do."
During his speech, Dobson blamed same-sex marriage on a "tyrannical judiciary" that he said is "trying to eliminate morality as a basis for law."
Attendees also heard from speakers who advised them how to address the issue without engendering their churches' tax-exempt status.
Some state and local politicians also attended. Karen Minnis, speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, assured the pastors that many lawmakers agree with them but admitted that the legislature is unlikely to address the issue this year.
Ironically, Dobson's demands for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage do not appear to be shared by most evangelical Christians in America. A new study of evangelicals released April 13 finds that while the vast majority, 85 percent, oppose same-sex marriage, only 41 percent support a constitutional amendment to ban it. Fifty-two percent said state laws are enough.
"We fully expected that evangelicals would be opposed to gay marriage," said Anna Greenberg, vice president of the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. But she added that "less than a majority said they had a litmus test" on the issue of gay marriage for political candidates. Forty-six percent said they would refuse to vote for a candidate who supports same-sex marriage, while 42 percent said they would back such a candidate if they agreed with most of the candidate's other stands.
The poll was conducted for U.S. News magazine and the PBS series "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly." It included both white and black evangelicals and has a margin of error of 2.5 percent.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is busy trying to mobilize church members to fight same-sex marriage. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference in late March announced a voter-registration drive aimed at parishioners in the state.
Church leaders believe registering more Catholics will help elect legislators who share the hierarchy's views on homosexuality, abortion and other topics. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that banning same-sex marriage violates the state constitution. In response, legislators have drafted a constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriage but permit state recognition of civil unions.
The Boston Archdiocese's newspaper, The Pilot, has made it clear that the voter registration drive is crucial to the church's agenda.
"Legislators who decide to vote to harm the institution of marriage either by allowing same-sex marriage to stand unchallenged or by creating civil unions will feel a backlash in November," thundered a March 25 Pilot editorial.
Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley announced earlier this year that the church would vigorously fight same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. At a "Red Mass" for members of the legal profession in January, O'Malley called on Catholic lawyers and judges to "use your wisdom to defend the truth, to defend marriage."
Later that day at a luncheon, failed Supreme Court candidate Robert Bork blasted the Massachusetts high court for its ruling, saying the majority decision "did not rise above the quality of a late-night philosophy session in a dormitory."
Four states Kentucky, Georgia, Utah and Mississippi will vote this November on adding amendments to their state constitutions that deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.
In other news about marriage:
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has dropped plans to introduce his own constitutional amendment granting states authority to make their own decisions about marriage. Hatch in April floated the idea of introducing a competing amendment but quickly dropped it after being criticized by Religious Right groups. He subsequently signed on as a cosponsor of S.J. Res. 30, the Federal Marriage Amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.).