The Battle Over Gay Marriage


    Mass Voices for Traditional Marriage founder Laurie Letourneau rallies in Worcester, Mass.

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    After the Hawaii ruling, Lambda reversed course. One of its top attorneys, Evan Wolfson, began traveling the country to speak on gay marriage. Both gay and straight audiences needed convincing that it wasn't a distant fantasy. "I spoke in churches, gay organizations, the Federalist Society. I spoke in almost every state in the country. This went on for years. And the real thing that started to make the big difference is when we started to believe it could happen," says Wolfson, 47, who now runs his own project called Freedom to Marry. "And once that happened — after Hawaii, after this was being debated in California and Vermont — we saw a surge of people who had not been particularly active in the movement now come into it." High-profile losses in California and other states were eventually followed by a halfway win in Vermont and then, of course, a full victory last week in Massachusetts.

    As Wolfson was trying to promote same-sex marriage, Matt Daniels was becoming convinced that it would damage the institution of the family. Daniels, 40, runs the Alliance for Marriage, which wrote the Federal Marriage Amendment now before Congress. Daniels comes to the issues of marriage and family breakdown from a very personal place. His father walked out when he was 2, leaving his mom to work as a secretary. One night when Daniels was in third grade, she was assaulted on her way home. "She ends up with a broken back, disabled, on welfare, depressed," says Daniels, trailing off. "So I was basically raised on welfare."

    Daniels got a scholarship to Dartmouth, but after college he had to return home to care for his mother, who was dying of congestive heart failure. (She passed away in 1990.) During that period, he began volunteering in homeless shelters, where he says he saw the consequences of family breakdown, including welfare dependency and youth crime. "And it's about that time that we began to see the court activity in Vermont," he recalls. "Already we had seen it in Hawaii." Daniels was deeply troubled by the prospect of gay marriage, he says, "because of the unique combination of gifts that the two genders bring to the raising of children. The family — defined as built on the union of male and female — from my perspective is the foundation of society. The United States could survive without ideologies on left and right, without the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, but if you look at social-science data, we cannot thrive if we continue to see the disintegration of the unit of the family."

    By the late '90s, Daniels was working for the Boston-based Massachusetts Family Institute, an independent conservative group loosely affiliated with Focus on the Family. In Boston, he became friendly with the Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, a physician turned pastor who had won national plaudits for helping inner-city youths in Boston. Eventually Daniels — with the help of Hammond and several other minority ministers — founded the Alliance for Marriage.

    Although the alliance has a modest budget of $900,000 a year, compared with $120 million for Focus on the Family, it has influence beyond its means. Just as Wolfson was promoting gay marriage when gays wouldn't listen, Daniels was suggesting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage when conservatives wouldn't listen. When the alliance held a press conference to announce the idea in the summer of 2001, Daniels says, "there wasn't any debate going on about a marriage amendment." But by the following May, the alliance had lined up a Congressman — a Democrat, actually — to introduce the Federal Marriage Amendment. Today it has 109 co-sponsors in the House and five in the Senate.

    The amendment would limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, but it would not outlaw civil unions, which Daniels believes should be available to states. His moderation on that point is considered apostasy on the right, and Daniels has had to battle more powerful groups that want the amendment to go further, explicitly banning not only gay marriages but any state's recognition of gay relationships. For the past few months, about 20 serious movement conservatives — stalwarts like former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association — have strategized on how to toughen the language. Daniels, who says one conservative leader told him his multicultural alliance "looks like the bar scene from Star Wars," has not been invited.

    Calling themselves the Arlington group because they first met last summer in that Washington suburb, these conservatives feel that "ideally," as Bauer said last week, "we would like an amendment that would make it unconstitutional to have gay marriage or fake marriage, the civil unions." Realistically, however, they have concluded that such a sweeping amendment probably won't pass. It's very early in the process, but the White House seems to be leaning toward the more flexible language.

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