WASHINGTON (BP)–Richard Land believes the likelihood of adopting a constitutional amendment to protect marriage is much greater than most journalists think, the Southern Baptist ethicist told reporters from some of the country’s major newspapers.
Speaking at a seminar on religion in America, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told more than 30 reporters he is optimistic Congress and the states will approve a federal amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“I think that there’s a far better chance there’s going to be an amendment to the Constitution than many of the people in this room and than many of the people on editorial boards across the country,” Land said. “If we can get the amendment out of the Senate and the House [of Representatives] with a two-thirds vote, it only takes 38 states to ratify. I would predict that within 18 months the amendment would be ratified.”
Both houses of Congress must approve a proposed amendment with a two-thirds majority in order to send it to the states. Three-fourths of the states must pass the amendment in order for it to be added to the Constitution.
More than 40 states have approved either marriage protection amendments or laws preventing “same-sex marriage” from being recognized within their borders, Land said.
“I think [a federal amendment protecting marriage] is what clearly a significant majority of the American people want,” Land said. Although he did not predict how soon an amendment would be ratified, he said “it’s difficult to suppress the people’s will forever” in a representative form of government.
He favors a federal amendment “because I think that marriage has to be decided at the national level,” Land told reporters. “We have to have one definition of marriage in this country; otherwise we have chaos.
“[W]e believe that marriage is already a damaged and endangered institution in this country, and the attempt to extend it will not extend it; it will shatter it,” he said.
Land and other pro-family leaders are promoting the Marriage Protection Amendment, which is expected to be voted on by the Senate in early June. The amendment, S.J. Res. 1, is intended to protect the institution against continuing legal efforts that would identify homosexual relationships, and potentially other groupings, as marriages.
Speaking and answering questions for nearly 90 minutes on April 19, Land addressed various issues relating to evangelical Christians. The audience included reporters from such newspapers as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News.
Also among the topics Land addressed during the session:
— On whether Southern Baptists would vote for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for president: “If their choice is between a social conservative and a non-social conservative, most of them will vote for a Mormon social conservative, because they’re more concerned about where they stand on the issues and their worldview than they are their personal faith. And I think it’s the way it should be.”
— On how Southern Baptists would vote in a presidential election if abortion were no longer an issue: “If you could take that issue off the table, probably the Southern Baptist vote, instead of dividing 80 percent, 20 percent [for the Republican], would probably divide 60-40 or maybe even 55-45. You have to understand, most Southern Baptists were not raised Republican. Most of them were either raised Democrat or independent. They vote Republican on social issues. They just do.”
The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and the massive increase in abortion that followed that Supreme Court decision were the major reasons Southern Baptists and other evangelicals began voting overwhelmingly for Republicans, who had a pro-life platform, Land said.
Abortion “has been the driving issue, and it will continue to be the driving issue, as long as you have the strong divergence between the two major parties on this issue,” he told the reporters.
After decades of evangelical failure to be involved in the American political process, abortion was the issue “without which evangelical engagement would not have happened” nor happened with nearly as much force, Land said.
There was “a pretty deep pietistic streak in evangelicalism in the United States, certainly in the middle decades of the 20th century,” Land said, citing two reasons for that development.
In Protestant denominations other than the Southern Baptist Convention, modernists won the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. “So you had a withdrawal into sort of a siege mentality of the conservative offshoot of those denominations,” he said.
In addition, Land said, the “one social issue that evangelicals were overwhelmingly committed to and abandoned their sort of pietistic streak to get involved turned out to be a colossal, social failure — prohibition.
“I think that [evangelicals] felt discredited; they felt embarrassed,” he said, adding that they decided the lesson is “we shouldn’t get involved at all.”
The Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland in College Park, sponsored the five-day seminar, one of six on a variety of topics it will hold this year.