Focus on Politics: Religious Right Leader James Dobson Declares War over Marriage, as Election-Year Battle Widens

By Conn, Joseph J. | Church & State, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Focus on Politics: Religious Right Leader James Dobson Declares War over Marriage, as Election-Year Battle Widens


Conn, Joseph J., Church & State


For a follower of the Prince of Peace, religious broadcaster James Dobson sure has a fondness for warfare imagery.

At an April 5 rally at New Hope Community Church in Clackamas, Ore., the evangelical Christian radio broadcaster proclaimed the debate over same-sex marriage as the climactic battle in America's culture war.

"This is the Waterloo, this is the Gettysburg," thundered Dobson, in his speech to 2,000 pastors and church leaders. "If lost, it will be like a mirror shattered. Once it's broken, it will not be repaired."

Dobson, founder of the tax-exempt Focus on the Family religious empire, is throwing down the political gauntlet. Although the Colorado Springs-based radio counselor has always dabbled heavily in political affairs behind the scenes, he has finally decided to go public with his agenda. According to The New York Times, Dobson has formed a new organization, Focus on the Family Action, whose 501(c)(4) tax status will allow for more political activities.

Dobson and a phalanx of Religious Right leaders have declared all-out political war this year, using same-sex marriage as their rallying point. They see the controversial subject as a wedge issue to recruit new grassroots troops, energize their base in an election-year and elect candidates who will implement their broad theocratic agenda across the board.

While Religious Right groups are continuing their battles on various issues in the courts and the state legislatures, their top goal today is the addition of a Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment would declare: "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."

Hearings on the proposal have been held in recent weeks in Congress. In the Senate, Sen. Wayne Allard's bill (S.J. Res. 30) is pending in committee. In the House, the same measure is being pushed by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.). (H.J.Res. 56.)

Dobson and company are demanding passage, and they are using a broad range of tactics to achieve their goal. Religious Right leaders are issuing fervent appeals, organizing mass rallies and attempting to spur action by local churches. In addition to their white evangelical base, they are reaching out to black and Hispanic clergy as well, an audience that has resisted such appeals in the past.

In his April letter to donors, Dobson fired a fusillade of inflammatory rhetoric.

"Barring a miracle," wrote Dobson, "the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself.... For more than 40 years, the homosexual activist movement has sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family"

Dobson denounced "arrogant, unaccountable and unelected judges" for upholding the rights of gay people, singling out moderate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as "one of the most dangerous men in America."

Dobson noted that he and more than 50 "pro-family leaders" had met in Washington, D.C., some seven times to lobby Congress on the issue. (Dobson was referring to the so-called "Arlington Group," a coalition of Religious Right and allied leaders who are pushing for a marriage amendment.)

The religious conservatives have a close but imperfect relationship with the White House. President George W. Bush, after months of lobbying by Religious Right leaders, finally endorsed the marriage amendment on Feb. 24.

On May 17, the day same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts, Bush reaffirmed that stance.

"The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges," said Bush, in a statement.

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