Monday, February 14, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Chocolates and flowers still abound, but Valentine’s Day is acquiring a new, politically tinged layer of symbolism.

For many activists, it’s now the date of choice to mobilize on matters of the heart — advocating abstinence, decrying divorce, rallying nationwide on homosexual “marriage.”

Across the country, teens from hundreds of schools and youth groups will make chastity pledges today on the “Day of Purity” — organized by the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based conservative legal group.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, will renew their wedding vows in front of hundreds of couples at a ceremony promoting the state’s covenant-marriage law — a voluntary system that makes divorce harder to obtain.

“The nation will be watching as we take a stand for marriage,” the Huckabees’ invitation says.

And at statehouses, courthouses and city halls nationwide, supporters of homosexual rights will rally in support of same-sex “marriage” as Valentine’s Day serves as the centerpiece of their “Freedom to Marry Week.” Similar observances have occurred annually since 1998, but this year, the mood is more combative as many states move to amend their constitutions to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“There’s a greater appreciation this year of how much more work there still is to do,” said Evan Wolfson, a lawyer who heads the Freedom to Marry campaign.

“We are at a moment of peril right now, where our opponents are able to stampede people into adopting these discriminatory amendments, depriving them of the time to take a deep breath and embrace fairness,” he said.

Today’s events include rallies for homosexual “marriage” in Milwaukee; Portland, Ore.; and Tampa, Fla., and at the statehouses in Maryland, New Mexico and Washington. In Richmond, homosexual couples plan to apply for marriage licenses at City Hall, then be united in ceremonies performed by a minister from the Metropolitan Community Church.

A very different crowd is expected tonight at a North Little Rock arena for the marriage celebration in Arkansas, where voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage” last year.

“This fun-filled, romantic evening will encourage and equip you as a couple to go the distance,” said the Huckabees’ invitation, which promised entertainment from a Grammy-winning gospel singer and inspirational speeches from marriage experts.

The governor, in a telephone interview, said he wants to make more Arkansans aware of covenant marriage — an option in which couples pledge to go through lengthy counseling before any divorce, unless there is a dramatic factor such as physical abuse.

“It’s an admission on our part that keeping a marriage together is very hard work. It’s a commitment that if the marriage hits a crisis, we’ll see counselors before we see lawyers — and see if we can work it out,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Organizers of the Day of Purity, being held for the second time, said young people from about 2,000 schools and church groups have signed up to participate.

They are encouraged to wear white T-shirts as a symbol of purity and to hand out fliers to fellow students on such topics as promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Students are bombarded with the message that they should become sexually active at a young age and to experiment with their sexual preferences,” organizers said. “The Day of Purity offers the youth who strive for sexual purity an opportunity to stand in opposition to a culture of moral decline.”

But school officials and teachers in some communities were wary of promoting the Day of Purity for fear that it would be seen as a religious activity, said Rena Lindevaldsen, the event’s national coordinator.

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