WASHINGTON -- President Bush has proclaimed Oct. 12-18 as Marriage Protection Week, calling the institution's preservation "essential to the continued strength of our society."
The president issued the proclamation Oct. 3, one day after a coalition of 25 evangelical Christian and conservative organizations announced a campaign to preserve marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The effort, campaign leaders said, will begin with Marriage Protection Week and will work toward passage of a constitutional amendment to preserve the biblical and traditional definition of the institution.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other organizations formed the coalition in response to a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that could set the stage for homosexual unions. It also developed in anticipation of a possible ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court deciding there is a right in the state constitution for homosexuals to marry. A decision in that case is expected any day.
In his proclamation, Bush said, "Marriage Protection Week provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America.
"Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and my administration is working to support the institution of marriage by helping couples build successful marriages and be good parents."
Bush cited elimination of the marriage tax penalty, rewarding marriage in welfare reform and a healthy marriage initiative as examples of his administration's efforts to strengthen the institution. Bush has not endorsed a constitutional amendment to define marriage.
While he did not mention same-sex "marriage," Bush received criticism for his proclamation from the country's largest homosexual rights political organization.
"It is reprehensible for a president who claims to be compassionate to pander to a coalition of extremist groups by joining their assault on gay families," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. "The American people want to see politicians in Washington concentrating on the real threats to our families -- an unstable economy, high unemployment rates and uncertainty in Iraq -- not guaranteeing that same-sex couples are left without more than 1,000 rights, responsibilities and protections under federal law."
ERLC President Richard Land, however, said at the Oct. 2 news conference that the movement in the courts to legalize same-sex "marriage" is an "assault on the most basic foundational institution of society.
"This is an absolutely critical moment and juncture in the history of our society, our nation," Land said. "The same-sex 'marriage' movement ... is the poster child issue ... for the titanic struggle that is going on in our society between those who believe in a Judeo-Christian basis for our culture and those who believe in a neo-pagan, relativist base for our culture."
Among other organizations in what is dubbed the "Coalition to Protect Marriage" are: Concerned Women for America, American Family Association, Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, Prison Fellowship, the National Religious Broadcasters, Home School Legal Defense Fund, Samaritan's Purse, World magazine and Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.
The ERLC and other organizations are asking pastors to preach on marriage Oct. 12. The ERLC also is encouraging Southern Baptists to contact their members of Congress about supporting a constitutional amendment. The ERLC has a resolution on its Internet site (www.faithandfamily.com) that churches and other groups can endorse as part of Marriage Protection Week activities.
In a 6-3 ruling June 26, the Supreme Court struck down laws against sodomy in Texas and 12 other states. Critics of the opinion said the reasoning in the court's opinion may open the door for other concessions to homosexual rights advocates.
Supporters of a constitutional amendment face an uphill battle to gain ratification. It requires approval by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.
The only proposal introduced so far is the Federal Marriage Amendment, H.J.Res. 56. That amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."