By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
There's violence in Iraq, corruption in the House and anxiety in the markets. Somebody needs to create a diversion.
"The gays are aggressive! Gays have called war! Gays are attacking traditional marriage!"
Bishop Harry Jackson was shouting these words outside the Capitol yesterday morning, at a rally for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"Marriage is under attack!" cried out Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), also at the rally.
"We can have anarchy!" warned Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.).
No doubt Jackson, Allard and Harris are sincere in their views about marriage. But the urgency of their alarm is a bit suspect to anybody with an eye on the electoral calendar.
With President Bush's encouragement, the Senate this week is taking up the marriage amendment even though everybody knows it will be roundly defeated, most likely in a vote today. Proponents are hoping to add perhaps four votes to the 48 they got in 2004 -- at the same time in the previous election cycle. At this pace, it will be 2014 before the amendment has a shot at getting the 67 votes it needs to pass.
What the marriage amendment indisputably does, though, is delight social conservatives, whose turnout in November will be crucial if Republicans are to retain their majorities in the House and Senate. And conservative activists have burst back on the scene to show their gratitude -- even if they know it's a losing cause.
"If we didn't believe in miracles, we wouldn't have spent our vacation money to come here," said Sandra Rodrigues of Utah, who with her family has been standing outside the Russell Senate Office Building all week, shouting at senators and displaying signs urging "Stop Same Sex Marriage: It Endorses Masturbation." "If same-sex marriage is endorsed," she explained, "then you're going to have children think it's just another option to have pleasure."
Rodrigues and family have plenty of allies in their effort to stir up the GOP base. A group backed by the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council scheduled an all-day event Monday at the National Press Club featuring Robert Bork and Alan Keyes. Allard has held two events in as many days. And the activists are vying to outdo one another in hysteria.
"This is in many ways the crucial question of our time," Heritage's Matthew Spalding submitted at a Press Club event.
Said Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute: "We have boys who are going to be in with your girls in the locker room and the restrooms."
Added Exodus International's Alan Chambers, who said he quit homosexuality 14 years ago: "Our children are being raped every day of school by what's being taught. Are you mad? I'm mad. I'm so mad. God have mercy."
Chambers is likely to be angrier still if he checks out the results of last month's Washington Post-ABC News poll. When voters were asked about the most important issue in November's election, they chose the economy, Iraq, immigration, gas prices, terrorism and health care. Same-sex marriage merited only an asterisk, meaning it rated below 0.5 percent of responses.
With that in mind, Senate Democrats have tried furiously to keep the debate on topics more likely to depress Republican turnout in November. Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) brought a list to the floor Monday. "High gas prices, the war in Iraq, the national debt, health care, senior citizens, education, crime, trade policy, stem cell research: Each issue begging for the president's attention, each issue being ignored."
But liberal advocacy groups fell into the conservatives' trap, holding at least four events of their own to treat the doomed amendment as if it were an imminent threat. "It has come to a point in this country," Rabbi Joui Hessel said at a National Press Club event dueling with the conservatives, "where our government is poised to legalize a lesser status to gay and lesbian people."
Poised? It's not the first word that comes to mind when listening to proponents try to explain urgency for a same-sex-marriage ban this week.
When White House press secretary Tony Snow, at Monday's briefing, likened the amendment to efforts to enact civil rights laws, CBS News's Bill Plante challenged him.
"You would equate that with civil rights?" Plante asked.
"No, I'm just saying that I think -- well, I don't know. How do you define civil rights?"
"Up to you," Plante offered.
"Okay," Snow said. "Well, no, it's your question. So I -- if I -- . . . I need to get a more precise definition."
Likewise, Allard held a news conference Monday at which the speakers said they wanted to reduce the "epidemic level of fatherlessness in America."
"How would outlawing gay marriage encourage heterosexual fathers to stick around?" was the first question.
Allard skirted the question by saying that "laws send a message to our children."
The moderator, Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, tried to find a question on another subject. But when reporters continued to press Allard on the link between same-sex marriage and deadbeat dads, Daniels blurted out: "All right, you know what? We're going to call this press conference to a close."