WASHINGTON – Prompted by concerns over the possible legalization of same-sex marriage, a nascent movement proposes adding an amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly defining marriage.
The amendment, proposed by groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition, would read "marriage in the United States shall consist only of a union of a man and a woman."
The language has upset gay and lesbian groups who say they are being attacked.
"It seems to be in extreme reaction to the Civil Union laws passed in Vermont," said Human Rights Campaign communications director David Smith. "Unfortunately, [this is] a mean-spirited attack on gay families. Sadly, these groups have chosen to identify gay families a group that is not worthy of protection. Therefore, they want to go to the extreme step of embedding the U.S. Constitution a second-class status for gay people."
Organizers of the movement for a constitutional amendment admit that efforts to promote the legalization of gay marriage have prompted the push for a constitutional definition.
"There is a clear-cut barrage of legal challenges against marriage laws in state after state," said Rev. Louis Shelton, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, referring to recent efforts by some courts and state legislatures to sanction same-sex partnerships. "[There was] Hawaii, then you had Alaska, then you had Vermont. We see the writing on the wall.
"Our Founding Fathers never anticipated this," he added. "But we definitely need to take this to the people. That's what a constitutional amendment would be."
Gay rights activists insist same-sex unions should be afforded the same legal recognition granted to traditional married couples
"We understand this is an emotional issue and that there are thoughtful people on both sides of it," Smith said. "But our point is simply that gay relationships, gay families are an important part of the American family and we should receive the same rights and privileges as other folks."
But Shelton said that protection is not possible.
"The problem is we can't change the absolute bedrock foundation of Western civilization, which is built on one man and one woman and that relationship," Shelton said.
Shelton's advocacy of a constitutional amendment comes in the wake of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. The law says no state can be required to recognize a gay marriage performed in another state where such unions might be legal.
But gay rights activitists may have a credible challenge to the law. Some legal experts believe DOMA violates a clause in the Constitution that requires each state to honor the laws of other states.
"The full faith and credit clause establishes that a contract signed in one state should be recognized in another state," Smith said. " ... if you get married in California and move to New York, your marriage is recognized in New York. We believe that is one of the underpinnings of why the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional."
Getting a Constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate is difficult, and then it must be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures. But Shelton said that should be no problem.
Most state legislatures will be supportive of a Constitutional amendment, he says, "when they sit down and see what the homosexual lobby is (attempting to do), to remove the man-woman relationship in marriage from center stage."
And the Traditional Values Coalition is getting some help in its effort. Later this week, a coalition of legal, civil rights and religious leaders will announce support for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution.
Fox News' Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report.