- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 13, 2003

It’s not unlike a two-cushion shot in billiards: If the proponents of the federal marriage amendment want to succeed, they had better spend some time focusing their forces on next year’s U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania.

Politics often is a game of indirection, of strange and bizarre connections. Seemingly unrelated issues, events and personalities sometimes have the most surprising relatedness. Pursuit of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a case in point. The road to the amendment may run through the rolling hills and verdant valleys of the Keystone State.

Unfortunately, the proponents of the federal marriage amendment, commonly referred to as the FMA, do not always approach issues with an excess of political sophistication. Family values conservatives mostly think in terms of promoting good ideas and sound policies.

Ideas do have consequences, and they can be persuasive. But in politics merely having goodness, the weight of sound ideas, and rightness on your side is no guarantee of success. The FMA may appear to its advocates to be self-evidently true and worthy of support, but things rarely are so simple in the political sphere. Good ideas rarely prevail purely on their merits.

So FMA proponents had better do some hard-nosed, practical political strategizing amid all the tub-thumping for the amendment’s abundant virtues.

Politics is about exercising power, not winning arguments. This means targeting Pennsylvania.

I keep asking my friends in the pro-amendment camp, what are the odds of the FMA passing out of the Senate with Arlen Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee? Unless FMA forces push the measure through the Senate in 2004, a most unlikely prospect, this is what they may confront in 2005.

The current Judiciary Committee chairman, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, is term-limited. Mr. Specter is next in line to assume the committee chairmanship in 2005.

Over the years, Mr. Specter has not been much of friend to social conservatives. He is pro-choice on abortion, favors extending hate crimes protection to sexual orientation, and bizarrely invoked Scottish law to cast a vote against conviction in Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Sen. Specter probably would not be enthusiastic about amending the Constitution to protect marriage, pre-empt the federal court’s jurisdiction, and federalize state family law. And any marriage amendment, of course, must pass through the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Specter’s re-election next year could doom whatever chance the FMA might have in the Senate. Fortunately for amendment advocates, Mr. Specter faces a primary challenger. Rep. Pat Toomey is running for the Specter seat.

If Mr. Toomey were to defeat Mr. Specter, the Judiciary Committee chairmanship would rotate to Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican. Therefore, the fate of the FMA could be decided by the Pennsylvania primary in April.

Pat Toomey is a solid social conservative. His lifetime rating with the American Conservative Union is 97, compared with Mr. Specter’s uninspiring 42. Social conservatives are rallying to Mr. Toomey, while the Republican Party establishment from the White House down already has closed ranks around Arlen Specter (in the interest of full disclosure, ACU has endorsed Mr. Toomey and its PAC has contributed to his campaign).

The FMA advocates, therefore, should marshal all their grass-roots forces and focus intently on Pennsylvania, not Capitol Hill, between now and April.

That’s where the fight to amend the Constitution could be won or lost. FMA advocates need to recognize amending the Constitution is daunting enough without the obstacle of Arlen Specter in control of the Judiciary Committee.

In addition to helping secure favorable treatment for FMA in the Judiciary Committee under a friendly chairman, Mr. Specter’s defeat would send an unmistakable signal regarding the political strength of the social conservative wing of the party.

Such muscle-flexing would do far more to advance passage of a marriage amendment than all the finely honed legal and moral arguments about the merits of such a measure.

Richard Lessner is executive director of the American Conservative Union.

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