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Backers of Gay Marriage Ban Use Social Security as Cudgel

A coalition of major conservative Christian groups is threatening to withhold support for President Bush's plans to remake Social Security unless Mr. Bush vigorously champions a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The move came as Senate Republicans vowed on Monday to reintroduce the proposed amendment, which failed in the Senate last year by a substantial margin. Party leaders, who left it off their list of priorities for the legislative year, said they had no immediate plans to bring it to the floor because they still lacked the votes for passage.

But the coalition that wrote the letter, known as the Arlington Group, is increasingly impatient.

In a confidential letter to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, the group said it was disappointed with the White House's decision to put Social Security and other economic issues ahead of its paramount interest: opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter, dated Jan. 18, pointed out that many social conservatives who voted for Mr. Bush because of his stance on social issues lack equivalent enthusiasm for changing the retirement system or other tax issues. And to pass to pass any sweeping changes, members of the group argue, Mr. Bush will need the support of every element of his coalition...

The letter also expressed alarm at recent comments President Bush made to The Washington Post, including his statement that "nothing will happen" on the marriage amendment for now because many senators did not see the need for it...

The letter also noted that in an interview before the election Mr. Bush "appeared to endorse civil unions" for same-sex couples.

The group asked Mr. Rove to designate "a top level" official to coordinate opposition to same-sex marriage, as a show of commitment.

Trent Duffy, a spokesman for the White House, said on Monday that "the president was simply talking about a situation that exists in the Senate, not about his personal commitment or his willingness to continue to push this issue." Mr. Duffy said the "president remains very committed to a marriage amendment" and added, "We always welcome suggestions from our friends."

Some Senate Republican leaders were not optimistic on Monday about the amendment's prospects this year.

"I think if we had the vote right now we'd come up short," said Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who is a member of the leadership and one of the amendment's most vocal backers in Congress. "We'd like to bring it up when we have the best possible chance of getting it passed."

The members of the coalition that wrote the letter are some of Mr. Bush's most influential conservative Christian supporters, and include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich.

Several members of the group said that not long ago, many of their supporters were working or middle class, members of families that felt more allegiance to the Democratic Party because of programs like Social Security before gravitating to the Republican Party as it took up more cultural conservative issues over the last 20 years.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, declined to talk about the letter, but said, "The enthusiasm to get behind his proposals is going to require that he get behind the issues that really motivated social conservative voters."

Asked to estimate the level of discontent with the White House among the group on a scale from one to 10, Mr. Perkins put it at 8.

By David D. Kirkpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, Jan 25, 2005

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