Pro-family groups are warning states to take steps toward passing a marriage amendment, noting that the Vermont decision on Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage is an indication that the battle over marriage will eventually spread to other states and reach the federal level.
"To the millions of Americans who care about marriage, we say get ready: President Obama and Democrats will use Vermont as an excuse to overturn the bipartisan federal Defense of Marriage Act," said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), according to The Associated Press.
"The next step is to ask the Supreme Court to impose gay marriage on all 50 states."
On the same day the Vermont legislature voted to override the governor's veto, the D.C. Council unanimously voted to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. The District is expected to issue a final vote next month.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins condemned both votes but called the D.C. City Council decision a "direct affront to the federal Defense of Marriage Act."
"The radical Left wants to destroy the traditional union of one man and one woman across the country and they will not rest until they do so," he stated.
The decisions in Vermont and D.C. come just after the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday struck down the state's Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, effectively allowing gay marriages to be recognized in the state later this month.
Vermont became the fourth state to allow same-sex couples to marry, joining Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted under the Clinton administration, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and provides that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from another state.
President Obama's administration has stated support toward the repeal of the federal DOMA.
Despite similar laws to DOMA being active in 45 states, traditional marriage supporters fear that they could be struck down by "activist judges," as was the case in Iowa and California. They argue that states must pass constitutional marriage amendments in order to protect current marriage laws.
"That's the only sure way to protect the institution of marriage from radical social engineering by state judges," said Perkins said last week following the Iowa ruling.
Another issue looming for pro-family leaders is how civil unions laws could be used as a stepping stone for gay rights activists to legalize gay marriage by state.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas had vetoed the gay marriage bill – which the state legislature overrode – because he felt same-sex couples already receive state benefits of marriage under a 2000 civil unions law. He said in a statement last week that he would support legislation that would extend those benefits at the federal level to states that recognize same-sex unions but maintained his belief that marriage is between one man and one woman only.
Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, said that Vermont's legislative action refutes the argument that civil unions are a satisfactory compromise to protect marriage.
“This move also demonstrates without question that ‘civil unions’ are never acceptable middle ground," said ADF senior legal counsel Austin R. Nimocks. "Instead, they are the groundwork used to pave the way toward what you see today. Other states should not be naïve.
Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright said pro-family leaders had warned early on that the debate over Vermont civil unions was not just about benefits.
"That was merely the wedge to demand more, to require that everyone in society accept what cannot — by nature — be, that marriage can be something other than one man and one woman," Wright said.
"The decision by Vermont legislators to attempt to redefine marriage creates an urgency for other states and officials to protect marriage," she added.
While pro-family leaders lamented the recent decision, gay rights supporters rejoiced that Vermont again made history by becoming the first to recognize gay marriage through legislation.
"I have never felt more proud of Vermont as we become the first state in the country to enact marriage equality not as the result of a court order, but because it is the right thing to do," said Vermont Senate president pro tempore Peter Shumlin.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island are expected to debate and vote on similar legislation in the coming weeks.
The National Organization for Marriage is hoping to mobilize Rhode Islanders to take action in support of traditional marriage through a TV campaign that is being launched at the Rhode Island State House on Wednesday. The campaign will "highlight how same-sex marriage undermines the core civil rights of those who believe in the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," according to Brown.
The one-minute TV ad, which will initially launch in New Jersey and Rhode Island and then nationally, would eventually include more than $1.5 million in airtime, the Los Angeles Times reported.