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A crowd reported at more than 10,000 showed up Sunday night for a simulcast television program at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., aimed at swaying debate over a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Senate on Friday began debate on an amendment designed to stop state legislatures and courts from legalizing same-sex marriage. Supporters predict about half of the senators will vote for the amendment, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass. A vote is expected Wednesday.

Opponents called the debate election-year politics, with the Senate wasting time by debating a bill that nobody believes will pass while an important budget measure is months overdue. Supporters said a vote on the measure would force lawmakers to come down on one side of a controversial issue during an election year.

Leaders of the religious right hope gay marriage will become a wedge issue in the upcoming election. Sen. John Kerry, who is running for president as a Democrat, opposes gay marriage but is against amending the Constitution.

President Bush, after prodding from the religious right, came out in support of a federal marriage amendment in February.

The president in his weekly radio address on Saturday urged Congress to adopt and pass on to the states for ratification an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.

“When judges insist on imposing their arbitrary will on the people, the only alternative left to the people is an amendment to the Constitution–the only law a court cannot overturn. A constitutional amendment should never be undertaken lightly–yet to defend marriage, our nation has no other choice,” Bush said.

The Southern Baptist Convention last month adopted a resolution declaring support for a Federal Marriage Amendment and calling on Southern Baptists to urge their congressmen to pass it.

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in May said opponents of same-sex marriage were hoping for an outcry from Americans to generate support for the amendment, but it hadn’t occurred.

“Unless Southern Baptists and other people of faith want to see a judicially decreed, same-sex ‘marriage’ hegemony imposed on the entire country, they must translate their outrage, conviction and concern into phone calls to their senators, congressmen and the president,” Land said in Baptist Press.

“Unless Washington feels the heat from a groundswell of protest, they won’t see the light, and marriage as we have known it in America will be further imperiled,” Land said.

Sunday’s simulcast program, “The Battle for Marriage—Imminent Vote,” reached more than a million television viewers in addition to being carried on hundreds of radio stations, according to a press release.

Featuring speakers including Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and Chuck Colson, the program was co-sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The simulcast was the result of a partnership between the ERLC and FRC, in association with Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals. Other broadcasts are scheduled Aug. 29 and Oct. 24

Conservative Christian leaders urged pastors to preach on marriage on the morning of July 11 and to host a “Battle for Marriage” broadcast that evening.

The religious gay-rights group Soulforce countered by asking people to stand in silent protest with a message that says “I oppose the FMA” if their houses of worship participated in “Protect Marriage Sunday.”

“We can no longer sit quietly in the pews and do nothing when the pulpit is used to oppress us,” said Karen Weldin, director of operations for Soulforce. “To use worship to demean and oppress same-gender couples is wrong.”

The proposed amendment, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., reads as follows: “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 or Federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

While pleased with Bush’s support for a marriage amendment, a number of conservative leaders were miffed by the upcoming Republican Party convention exclusion of strong voices for the amendment in favor of more moderate members of the party, like Rudolph Guliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who oppose it.

Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation said he understands the president needs to attract swing voters to the ticket.

“Putting that aside, what about the rest of the conservatives in the country?” Weyrich said in a commentary.

Weyrich said Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman “evidently hasn’t learned yet that not all conservatives are Republicans.”

“We understand that not all Republicans are conservatives,” he said, “so that crowd certainly will be well represented in the primetime line-up. Let’s get some conservatives who will get the ordinary voters excited about the ticket! The left is highly motivated. I hate to say it but the conservatives, for the most part, are not excited about re-electing the president. They are supporting him reluctantly.”

On Friday Family Research Council President Tony Perkins sent flowers to Cheryl Jacques, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, as a thank you for the ad HRC ran in Roll Call newspaper, which asks, “Want to get a prime time spot at the Republican National Convention?  Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment.”

“We at FRC couldn’t have said it better ourselves,” said Perkins. “I am glad someone is happy with the line-up. Judging by the current list of invited speakers, the GOP must have a secret plan to carry the HRC and Planned Parenthood vote, all the while ignoring those who support traditional marriage and pro-life views–the very constituency that makes up the heart and soul of the Republican Party.”

Bob Allen is managing editor at EthicsDaily.com.

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