A coalition of conservative religious leaders is threatening to withhold support for President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security unless he pushes for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

According to the New York Times, the coalition known as the Arlington Group wrote a private letter to Bush adviser Karl Rove critical of Bush’s recent comment that he would not champion an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman because there isn’t enough support in the Senate to pass it.

“When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings,” the letter reportedly said.

The conservative leaders said failure by the president to spend the same political capital in seeking a marriage amendment as he appears to be doing for Social Security would “create outrage” among voters who supported him over that one issue.

The Arlington Group, which formed in Arlington, Va., but now meets in Washington, began when Don Wildmon of the American Family Association circulated an e-mail in the spring of 2003 calling for the religious right to work together on issues important to all rather than continuing to go their separate ways.

After an initial meeting in an Arlington apartment complex, the groups agreed to fund the Marriage Amendment Project. The Marriage Amendment Project is working for ratification of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “a union of a man and a woman.”

Participants in the Marriage Amendment Project include the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and North American Mission Board. Other project members include the American Family Association, Christian Coalition, Coral Ridge Ministries, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Liberty University, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Legal Society, Exodus International, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Religious Broadcasters and the Wilberforce Forum of Prison Fellowship.

The organizations pooled their resources and formed a staff in Washington. Shannon Royce, the former director of government relations for the ERLC’s Washington office, is the executive director of the project. She remains a consultant for the SBC agency but, with the ERLC’s support, is devoting her time to coordinating the coalition effort behind the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Royce is also identified as executive director of the Arlington Group in a column by board member Paul Weyrich. Weyrich said the meetings are by invitation and off the record. He said regular participants include Gary Bauer of the American Values Committee, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists and James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

Others named as participants in the coalition include Jerry Falwell; Bay Buchanan, sister of former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan; and Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The group is credited with pressuring Bush to voice support for a marriage amendment prior to the election.

The New York Times last February reported on an Arlington Group meeting where members gathered around a speakerphone as Land put Rove on the spot about whether the president would support a marriage amendment publicly and with vigor.

Rove reportedly told the group the president supported the amendment but was waiting for an opportune time to say so.

Two days later, Land sat next to Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, the majority leader, at the national prayer breakfast. “He said, the president has given his approval to the Musgrave amendment language and that is what we are going with,” Land recalled.

In their new letter, group members asked Rove to designate “a top level” official to coordinate opposition to same-sex marriage, as a show of commitment.

Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics said Bush’s apparent flip-flop created a “credibility dilemma” for the religious right.

Either they misled their constituents about the president’s intent to aggressively support a federal amendment banning gay marriage, he said, or “they lacked discernment about the president’s real commitments” and were “hoodwinked into mobilizing their constituency for his re-election.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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