Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Alliance for Marriage (AFM) is assembling broad left-right coalitions, including many black and Hispanic pastors, in several key states to convince senators to support a constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage,” which is set for a June vote in the Senate.

The House is also expected to vote this year on the contentious amendment, and both sides are already lobbying members.

The amendment — which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman — failed in both chambers in 2004, losing 50-48 in the Senate. This year, Matt Daniels, AFM president, said his side has picked up at least four new Senate votes and perhaps more, which would still leave the amendment well shy of the 67 senators, or two-thirds majority, needed to pass the measure.

Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota and David Vitter of Louisiana all support the amendment and were elected in 2004 in place of Democrats who voted against it. Mr. Daniels said his strategy is to keep inching along and holding votes until the measure is eventually approved.

“You’re going to see our momentum continue to grow, and it’s going to reflect Washington catching up with the rest of the country,” he said, citing the 40 states that have approved either laws or state amendments defending marriage, as well as seven more states expected to follow suit soon.

His group’s national strategy — assembling a liberal-conservative coalition uniting black, white and Latino religious and community leaders who strongly support traditional marriage and the amendment — has worked so well that they’re replicating it in 16 key states, he said. AFM wouldn’t list the states, but the plan is to train coalition leaders and send them back to the states to build the local coalitions.

Meanwhile, critics of the amendment say it impinges on individual rights.

“It would single out a group of Americans for discrimination, something that the vast majority of Americans are against,” states a memo by the Human Rights Campaign, which is fighting the amendment.

HRC is also reaching out to a broad array of people, including some conservatives who don’t like the idea of amending the Constitution over the issue. Even though the measure doesn’t have the 67 votes needed, HRC officials “are certainly not taking any vote for granted,” and are actively lobbying members of Congress and working with grass-roots allies, said Christopher Labonte, HRC legislative director.

“We are going to do whatever it takes to make sure we defeat this,” he said.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called the proposal “a constitutional amendment in search of a problem” and said it is “another in a series of misguided efforts” by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and the object of 2008 presidential speculation, “to court the right wing of his party.”

But Mr. Daniels and his supporters say their amendment is needed to counter a concerted effort across the country to have courts overturn state marriage laws or state marriage amendments, such as a court ruling expected any day out of Washington state.

The state Supreme Court will rule on a lawsuit seeking legalization of same-sex “marriage” and challenging the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Massachusetts approved such unions in 2003, but this situation is different, activists say, because Washington could perform “marriages” for out-of-state homosexuals, who could then return home and sue to have the union recognized under federal or local-state law.

Mr. Daniels said if that happens, more people would support the federal amendment. It would be “like gas on the fire,” he said.

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