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Church coalition resists marriage law

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WASHINGTON — A grouping of Christian, Jewish and Sikh organizations is urging Congress to reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

Twenty-six organizations, ranging from the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, USA, to the 60,000 represented by the Alliance of Baptists, said in a letter to Congress that it was not government's job to enshrine laws reflecting a specific religious view.

"We believe the federal marriage amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation's many religious traditions. It should be rejected," they wrote this week.

Spurred by the legalization of gay marriages in Massachusetts, a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage has the strong backing of some of the nation's larger religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church's Conference of Catholic Bishops, the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention and the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals.

"Our primary argument is that marriage is a foundational institution in society that should be protected," said Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals in Colorado Springs. Once marriage between a man and woman is protected, legislatures can do what they want to provide benefits for others in civil unions, he said.

President Bush also has encouraged quick action on the proposed amendment. While there is overwhelming opposition in Congress to gay marriage, there's also reticence toward changing the Constitution for what would only be the 28th time in the nation's history. Votes this year, particularly in the House, are uncertain.

Karen Vagley of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said her group signed the letter because "we see this as a civil rights matter. Our social statements are clear: we do not discriminate."

Stan Hastey, executive director of the Alliance of Baptists, said the amendment would deny same-sex couples the legal framework with which to provide for one another.

"We oppose any effort either by the church or state to use the other for its own purposes," he said.

Signing the letter were seven Jewish groups, led by the Union for Reform Judaism, two Quaker groups and three Sikh groups. Also included were the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Washington office of the Presbyterian Church, USA, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. All are considered generally liberal.

Americans United For Separation of Church and State helped coordinate the project.

Critical of the letter was Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious liberty commission, who said the government has had a traditional role in banning polygamy, incest or other practices generally rejected by society. "To say that this is an attempt to foist one religious viewpoint on everyone else is just nonsense," Land said. "This is a moral issue."

The Senate version of the proposed amendment, introduced by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."