NEW YORK – "Marriage Protection Week (search)" may provide the newest battleground for the continuing debate over same-sex marriages in the United States.
Last week, President Bush declared Oct. 12-18 "Marriage Protection Week," a designation that sought to provide "an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America."
"During Marriage Protection Week, I call on all Americans to join me in expressing support for the institution of marriage with all its benefits to our people, our culture and our society," Bush announced in an Oct. 3 proclamation.
Saying, "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman," Bush added, "Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures."
But gay-rights groups are protesting the idea.
"President Bush has endorsed an organized agenda of bigotry, discrimination, exclusion and intolerance," Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (search), said in a statement.
"It's critically important that the media ask the Bush administration and its supporters to defend their association with professional homophobes who seek to target, undermine and destroy American families. Such attempts to deny protections to some American families are in fact an attack on all of them."
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (search) called the designation "a public relations ploy developed by a right-wing coalition bent on denying same-sex couples equal protection under the law."
PFLAG said it supports the idea of a "Marriage Equality Week" to be held the same week.
"PFLAG has no wish to tread on the religious beliefs of any faith; each must remain free to define its own requirement for marriage, as mandated by our Constitution's separation of church and state," said PFLAG Executive Director David Tseng. "We only ask that the government and President Bush provide all people the same standing and extend to them their constitutional right to equality under the law."
Groups on the other side of the marriage debate argue the institution of marriage is being threatened in more ways than one, and Marriage Protection Week is a great opportunity for families to get out there and defend the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman only.
A coalition of approximately 25 pro-family advocacy groups held a press conference in Washington last week to support Marriage Protection Week and warn they won't let conventional marriages be undermined.
In addition, the Traditional Values Coalition (search) and the American Family Association (search), members of the Coalition to Protect Marriage, are urging church-goers to download fliers from their Web site about Marriage Protection Week and distribute them among fellow congregants and others.
These fliers urge people to contact their elected representatives in Congress and press for support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (search), which would create a legal definition of marriage.
"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman," the amendment reads. "Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred on unmarried couples or groups."
The fliers also urge people to talk about the issues and plan activities to promote heterosexual marriage.
"The courts are treating marriage as if it were a Mr. Potato Head where individual preferences govern its makeup," Family Research Council (search) President Tony Perkins said during the press conference. "Marriage has no interchangeable components -- it's between one man and one woman."
The Federal Marriage Amendment has the support of such far-flung lawmakers as Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Ralph Hall, D-Texas, Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and David Vitter, R-La. It's also backed by groups such as the Alliance for Marriage, Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Free Congress Foundation, the Christian Coalition and others.
The measure is currently under consideration in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.
The Family Research Council has also announced its "Marriage Protection Pledge (search)," which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman and which every lawmaker at the state and federal level will be asked to sign.
Gay-rights groups are encouraging their supporters next week to write letters to the editor in local papers and ask local news outlets to examine the ways the "anti-gay industry's campaign" is working to deny same-sex couples and families the same protections and rights as heterosexual couples.
Vermont is the only U.S. state to allow same-sex couples the rights and benefits of marriage. Vermont calls them civil unions, rather than marriages. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts over the summer considered recognizing gay marriages but missed the deadline to make a formal ruling.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states.