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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
America's marital rows
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

America's largest online prayer effort, the Presidential Prayer Team, has this week asked its members to make marriage their top prayer priority.

Marriage Protection Week poster
Supporters are being encouraged to write to their local representative
For it is Marriage Protection Week in the United States, proclaimed by President George W Bush "to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage", with the support of 30 conservative groups.

Many of these organisations believe that marriage - which they see as the bedrock of American society - has been placed in grave danger both by homosexual activists who are calling for same-sex unions, and feminists who in recent decades have placed great emphasis on women's independence and sexual liberation.

"Society has long been telling women they don't need men and they don't need marriage. But they do - sexual freedom is not a substitute. With this trend we have allowed men to become irresponsible playboys," says Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at a think-tank within Concerned Women For America, which is sponsoring the week.

"Meanwhile marriage is also under immense threat from same-sex unions, which are widely known to be promiscuous and unstable, no matter how much they say they are not."

The bottom line is that - in a land that prides itself on freedom and equality - a substantial group of people are being denied access to the same rights as heterosexuals
Alice Leeds
PFLAG
Homosexual pressure groups say they are furious that President Bush appears to have associated himself with these conservative groups and are outraged that his proclamation inaugurating the week made clear that he sees marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, and the best environment in which to raise children.

"President Bush has endorsed an organised agenda of bigotry, discrimination, exclusion and tolerance," declared Joan Garry, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad). "Such attempts to deny protections to some American families are in fact an attack on all American families."

Groups like Glaad want to see homosexual men and women granted the same right to unite as heterosexuals, and with it the same social and economic entitlements - including the right to adopt children, whom they stress need to be raised by loving parents, not necessarily married, heterosexual ones.

'Election matter'

Those who believe homosexuality is wrong are alarmed by many of the recent advances by the gay community.

This summer, the US Supreme Court overturned a ban on sodomy in Texas, essentially making it illegal for any state legislature to outlaw gay sex. Two months later, the country's first openly gay bishop was elected.

State courts have also been examining the issue of gay marriage.

Vermont is the only state to have enacted a law which gives same-sex couples the rights of traditional marriages, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is currently considering whether to grant marriage licences to homosexuals.

In preparation for such a ruling in Massachusetts and elsewhere, conservative groups and politicians are pressing for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages outright.

The bill, which has 96 sponsors in the House of Representatives, seeks to enshrine marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman, and would make same-sex unions a legal impossibility.

Groups such as Concerned Women For America, and the larger Focus on the Family, say if it comes to it, they will launch a campaign to encourage voters not to elect a politician who does not support the bill.

"We want this to be an election matter. It is a monumental issue that all politicians should be forced to take a stand on," says Glenn Stanton, director of social research at Focus on the Family.

Middle ground

Mr Stanton says he is much encouraged by Mr Bush's proclamation of Marriage Protection Week, and, should the Massachusetts court rule in favour of gay marriage, believes the White House would throw its weight behind a constitutional amendment.

Mr Bush - while endorsing marriage as a heterosexual union - has not yet committed himself to anything.

Gene Robinson
The election of gay bishop Reverend Robinson was controversial
"It's not surprising at all that he's backed the movement - it's popular within his own party, while opinion polls tend to show that many people are not that happy with the idea of gay marriage," says John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the libertarian Cato Institute.

"But I would be surprised if it became an election issue. Both Bush and his father, when he was president, have tried to walk a more liberal line than other Republicans for fear of alienating the middle ground.

"At the same time, I don't think any of the Democrat candidates would find it worth their while to fight the gay corner."

But while some observers see the week as a sop to the campaigners further on the right, many Democrats, gay rights campaigners stress, have also proved hostile to gay marriage.

Mr Bush's predecessor, Democrat President Bill Clinton, signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as the union of heterosexuals, although it did not prevent states from passing their own laws.

However, that has not made Marriage Protection Week any more palatable to homosexual pressure groups.

"The bottom line is that - in a land that prides itself on freedom and equality - a substantial group of people are being denied access to the same rights as heterosexuals," says Alice Leeds, spokeswoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

"The anti-gay industry hides behind the idea of family values. What they don't seem to realise is that families these days come in all sorts of configurations, shapes and sizes. And that's something to be embraced, not condemned."


SEE ALSO:
Proud bishop makes history
06 Aug 03  |  Americas
US court overturns gay sex ban
26 Jun 03  |  Americas
NY Times to announce gay unions
18 Aug 02  |  Americas
Vermont's gays win parity
26 Apr 00  |  Americas


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