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President Bush has signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 12-18 Marriage Protection Week, taking sides in a political debate pitting religious conservatives against gay-rights organizations.

Bush’s proclamation doesn’t address the divisive issue of gay marriage specifically, but it endorses a movement launched earlier by two-dozen conservative Christian and family groups as part of a broader effort to push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

In his proclamation, Bush defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. “Marriage is a sacred institution, and its protection is essential to the continued strength of our society,” the proclamation reads.

“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,” he said.

Gay-rights groups criticized Bush for supporting the emphasis. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays called it “a public-relations ploy developed by a right-wing coalition bent on denying same-sex couples legal protection under the law.”

Many in the religious right support amending the Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman in order to prevent courts from legalizing same-sex marriages.

“The courts are treating marriage as if it were a Mr. Potato Head where individual preferences govern its makeup,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “Marriage has no interchangeable components—it’s between one man and one woman.”

The Metropolitan Community Churches countered the announcement of Marriage Protection Week by proclaiming Oct. 12-19 as “Marriage Equality Week,” dedicated to the legalization of same-sex marriages. The MCC, founded 35 years ago for outreach to the gay, lesbian and transgender communities, claims to have 44,000 members in 23 countries.

Another religiously based group supporting gay rights, Soulforce, announced plans to organize civil-marriage forums across the United States to “educate people of faith about the injustice and spiritual violence caused by ignorance and misinformation surrounding equal civil marriage rights.”

The first forum is scheduled Saturday at First Christian Church in Lynchburg, Va., chosen for its proximity to Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Falwell, a popular TV preacher, has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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