LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson joined 50 prominent Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish leaders in signing a petition explaining why they see a need for such a constitutional amendment.
"We are convinced that this is the only measure that will adequately protect marriage from those who would circumvent the legislative process and force a redefinition of it on the whole of our society," reads the petition released to the public on Monday. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement acknowledging its involvement with the Religious Coalition for Marriage, but spokesman Dale Bills declined any further comment and said Nelson was granting no interviews.
The petition isn't the first attempt to amend the Constitution in regard to marriage.
A similar effort failed in 2004, but it did generate significant opposition to same-sex marriage that helped bring many conservative voters to the polls in some pivotal states in 2004. That same year, Utah amended its own constitution to define marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman - a move the LDS Church endorsed. The church has issued two previous statements in support of a constitutional amendment on marriage, and its position is clearly laid out in the 1994 document, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."
Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Utah, said she was disappointed but not surprised by this new drive to amend the U.S. Constitution.
"The Constitution is a very empowering document," Larabee said Monday. "This is the first time it would be used to take away rights, rather than extend them."
The U.S. has many bigger problems to face than how to define marriage, she said. "It's time to stop discriminating against [gays and lesbians] for something they have no control over."
Since the passage of Utah's marriage amendment, many gays and lesbians have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid discrimination in the workplace and protect their families, Larabee said. "If Utah voters truly knew the impact of Amendment 3, they'd be disgusted."
This new effort is nothing more than "political pandering and an electoral distraction," said Scott McCoy, an openly gay state senator who helped organize opposition to Utah's marriage amendment.
Congress is not likely to pass a constitutional amendment, nor should it, McCoy said. "Domestic relations law has never been a federal issue, not for 200 years."
Proponents of a traditional marriage definition say a constitutional amendment would immediately shut down all legal challenges to it across the nation.
Currently, there are court cases in Washington, California, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, said Monte Stewart, executive director of the Marriage Law Foundation in Orem.
"They are demanding that the court redefine marriage as the union of any two people," Stewart said. "It would end all the pending court cases and would give the U.S. a uniform definition of marriage."
Both the organizers and gay rights groups said what was striking about this new petition drive was the direct involvement by high-ranking Roman Catholic officials, including 16 bishops. Although the church has long opposed same-sex unions, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment banning such unions, evangelical Protestants generally led the charge when the amendment was debated in 2004.
The petition drive was organized in part by Robert P. George of Princeton, a Catholic scholar with close ties to evangelical Protestant groups. Aides to three Republican senators - Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; and Sam Brownback of Kansas - were also involved, organizers said.
Organizers said the petition had brought together cardinals from both the left and right sides of the United States bishops' conference, including the liberal Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and the conservative Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, as well as Cardinals Edward M. Egan of New York, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.
The prominent conservative Protestant figures included leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination, as well as the president of conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a handful of Episcopal bishops.
Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, an umbrella group that supports the proposed amendment, said the religious leaders represented "huge numbers" of people. His group has set up a Web site, http://www.
org, which includes the petition, pew handouts and suggested notes for sermons.
The New York Times contributed to this story.