Christian Right Arguments for the Federal Marriage Amendment
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 18, 2006 at 01:34:50 AM EST
Between June 5th and 7th, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Christian Right leaders like James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council are rallying their supporters in preparation for the vote.  
Richard Land has encouraged Southern Baptists to participate in Marriage Protection Sunday on June 4th. According to Land, Marriage Protection Sunday will be a way for pastors to educate Southern Baptists "about the threat to marriage posed by same-sex marriage."  

Pastors could distribute information about same-sex marriage on that Sunday, perhaps preach on the issue if God should lead them to do so, and hold a postcard signing time at the end of the service. The churches could gather the postcards and deliver them to a local office of their senators or mail them to their senators' DC offices.

The Federal Marriage Amendment would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, making marriage for same-sex couples illegal everywhere in the U.S.  It would also prevent states from conferring the legal rights of marital status on unmarried couples.  If passed, the amendment could affect civil unions and domestic partnerships through the enforcement of the FMA on the state level.  

What are the arguments that the Christian Right makes to garner support for the amendment?  The notion of marriage as a sacred union bestowed by God is central to anti-marriage policy arguments.  However, one key strategy has been for organizations of the Christian Right to pit gay rights against the rights of African-Americans and to accuse proponents of gay rights of appropriating the language of the civil rights movement.

The Christian Right argument claims that there is no biological basis for homosexuality as there is for race, and that the gay rights movement draws inaccurate analogies with African-American civil rights issues.  They view race as immutable and thus deserving of protected status and sexuality as a choice.  This has been a powerful tool for building coalitions between Christian Right organizations like Focus on the Family and African-American conservative Christian churches.  Many anti-gay marriage rallies are billed as racial reconciliation events.  

Glen Stanton, a policy analyst at Focus on the Family, argues that same-sex marriage is an issue for African-Americans because it will destroy African-American families by creating a new definition of marriage:  

The real reason the overwhelming majority of African-Americans and two-thirds of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage is because they understand it fundamentally redefines the family and says mothers and fathers don't matter for children. And the black community, more than any other, has suffered under the ravages of this. The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, coordinator of the 1963 March on Washington and president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable, recently warned, "Don't confuse my people who have been the victims of deliberate family destruction by giving them another definition of marriage."

Instead of addressing economic policies that affect all families, Stanton claims same-sex marriage will exacerbate fatherlessness and motherlessness in African-American communities.  

And while a loving and compassionate society comes to the aid of motherless or fatherless families created by fate, there is no "civil right" to intentionally subject children to fatherlessness or motherlessness in order to fulfill adult desire. That is what every same-sex family does, and exactly why the African-American community, and Americans, oppose the idea in such large and growing numbers.

One group that has worked closely with Focus on the Family is the Coalition of African- American Pastors, a grassroots organization with the goal of promoting "Christ-centered values," religion in public life,"the rights of the unborn," and "defending the sacred institution of marriage."   Supporting the federal marriage amendment is one of the Coalition's goals.  It also explicitly makes the comparison between the civil rights of African-Americans and the "homosexual agenda."

As African American pastors we understand first hand discrimination and the wholesale violation of our civil rights. The overwhelmingly majority of African American Pastors strongly oppose same sex marriage. Many of us were involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and we strongly reject the notion that the fight for same sex marriage is equivalent to our struggle against discrimination. Further, we find it extremely offensive to compare the homosexual agenda with the civil rights movement for our basic human rights.

The ability of Focus on the Family, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Coalition of African- American Pastors to mobilize the grassroots around the distinction between the "legitimate" civil rights of African-Americans and the non-existent rights of GLBT people is an alarming trend.   However, there are other voices in the debate.  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently released a report on How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support from African-Americans.   The Christian Right consistently frames same-sex marriage as a matter of faith and protecting families rather than civil rights.  However, the rationale behind the Federal Marriage Amendment is precisely to dismantle the economic and political rights of citizenship for GLBT people.  

Focus on the Family recently created a new organization called Focus on the Family Action (Focus Action) that will enable James Dobson to lobby on policy issues without jeopardizing the non-profit status of Focus on the Family.  Dobson writes that the first objective of Focus Action is to pass the FMA.

by Tanya Erzen on Thu May 18, 2006 at 01:41:15 AM EST
This isn't the first time that FotF has split in order to preserve their tax-exempt status; the Family Research Council had its birth under almost identical circumstances.

This method of splitting by dominionist groups is not one to be dismissed; look for Focus Action to eventually change its status to 501(c)3 and claim it's an independent organisation, too.

by dogemperor on Thu May 18, 2006 at 10:07:57 AM EST

To get a Google alert which led me to a May 17th, 2006 advice column by James Dobson, in an Indiana newsaper, in which Dobson listed the risk factors for divorce but didn't mention gay marriage !

Maybe there's some reason - lack of evidence ?

Or, maybe he just forgot.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu May 18, 2006 at 06:51:52 PM EST

In his book Marriage Under Fire, Dobson lists 10 reasons against gay marriage, and he never mentions divorce.  One of his arguments is about economics- that gay marriage will drive up health care costs and premiums for everyone because all kinds of families will be eligible for health insurance.   He also talks about how gay marriage will destroy social security.  These are clearly about raising people's economic anxieties and keeping him in line with the Republican agenda.  In terms of divorce, he never says gay marriage causes divorce, but he uses the same ridiculous argument that gay marriage will lead to polygamy, and he implies that this will also mean more divorces.  

by Tanya Erzen on Fri May 19, 2006 at 09:09:40 AM EST

If marriage is a "sacred union bestowed by God "... shouldn't it be illegal for atheists to get married? And Buddhists ? Pagans? The list could get pretty long.

by Vesica on Mon May 22, 2006 at 09:59:33 PM EST
...that AT BEST that is exactly what dominionists would want to do:

a) convert all marriage into "Covenant Marriages"--which, in addition to being almost impossible to get out of in an abusive situation, require as a mandatory condition a six-week counseling period, which would preferably be given by a "member of the clergy" or "Christian counseling" groups (as an aside, this has been tried in at least one state, Michigan)

b) strip all legal recognition of being clergy (including the legal ability to marry or to perform the "counseling" for "covenant marriage")--already in the military, there are dominionist groups trying to strip legal recognition for neopagan groups (for purposes of being chaplains), and in some states their ministerial license laws are as such that only pastors and priests and rabbis qualify (this is explicitly the case in Alabama, for instance).

In many states, the laws re ministerial recognition are such that neopagan groups already have to either go thrugh the Universal Life Church (if it is recognised in that state) or the Unitarian Universalists (in states with stricter requirements) to legally be able to marry people and be recognised as clergy; many pagan leaders just become notary publics (in states where notaries can marry people) because it's less of a legal headache.

c) If they can get precedent for annulment of LGBT marriages, it's possible once "covenant marriages" are passed they could selectively enforce or even write laws that annul marriages not done under the legal requirements of "covenant marriages" (which would NOT lock out dominionists--I know from personal experience that most dominionist pastors won't marry people without mandatory six-week "Christian marriage counseling" (that's how I got out of being forced into a dominionist service for my own wedding!)).

by dogemperor on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:31:51 AM EST

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