A Religious Push Against Gay Unions

Washington, USA - About 50 prominent religious leaders, including seven Roman Catholic cardinals and about a half-dozen archbishops, have signed a petition in support of a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage.

Organizers of the petition said it was in part an effort to revive the groundswell of opposition to same-sex marriage that helped bring many conservative voters to the polls in some pivotal states in 2004. The signers include many influential evangelical Protestants, a few rabbis and an official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But both the organizers and gay rights groups said what was striking about the petition was the direct involvement by high-ranking Roman Catholic officials, including 16 bishops. Although the church has long opposed same-sex unions, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment banning such unions, it was evangelical Protestants who generally led the charge when the amendment was debated in 2004.

"The personal involvement of bishops and cardinals is significantly greater this time than in 2004," said Patrick Korten, a spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, a lay Catholic group.

The Catholic bishops and many of the other religious leaders involved have pledged to distribute postcards for their congregants to send to their senators urging support for the amendment. The Knights of Columbus is distributing 10 million postcards to Catholic churches.

The petition drive was organized in part by Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, a Catholic scholar with close ties to evangelical Protestant groups. Aides to three Republican senators — Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; and Sam Brownback of Kansas — were also involved, organizers said.

Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said that at a meeting in Washington in February, the Senate aides recommended the idea of a postcard campaign, recalling the success of a similar effort that the bishops organized in support of a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion.

"We think the American people are on our side on this, and we want the Senate to know it," the archbishop said.

The campaign comes as many in the Republican Party are increasingly worried that their core supporters may stay away from the polls this year because they are demoralized by the war in Iraq and other matters. Senate Republican leaders have scheduled a vote on the proposed amendment in June, partly as a means of rallying conservatives.

No one expects the measure to pass this year. But drives to amend state constitutions to ban same sex-marriage proved powerful incentives to turning out conservative voters in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004. At least two states with contested Senate races — Tennessee and Pennsylvania, where Mr. Santorum is seeking re-election against a Democrat who also opposes abortion rights — are debating constitutional bans on same-sex marriage this year.

But Ohio and other pivotal states have already amended their constitutions, and at least one poll suggests that the public's negative response to the first same-sex marriages is cooling. A Pew Research poll in March found that 51 percent of the public opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, down from 63 percent in February 2004.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group, said supporters of the amendment were out of touch. "We have a war raging in Iraq, we have a Gulf Coast that needs to be rebuilt, we have an economy barely hanging on," he said. "The last thing America wants is this Republican-controlled Congress spending time writing discrimination into the Constitution."

Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, an umbrella group that supports the proposed amendment, said the religious leaders represented "huge numbers" of people. His group has set up a Web site, religiouscoalitionformarriage.org, which includes the petition, pew handouts and suggested notes for sermons.

Organizers said the petition had brought together cardinals from both the left and right sides of the United States bishops' conference, including the liberal Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and the conservative Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, as well as Cardinals Edward M. Egan of New York, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.

The prominent conservative Protestant figures included leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination, as well as the president of conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a handful of Episcopal bishops.

Other signers included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family; the evangelist D. James Kennedy; Bishop Charles E. Blake of the historically black Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union; and officials of the Orthodox Church in America.