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Vitter, Craig Unlikely Sponsors of Marriage Amendment

The latest attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage is under scrutiny not for its content but for two of its sponsors viewed as unlikely champions of family values.

Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and David Vitter, R-La., both of whom made headlines in the past year for scandals involving allegations of sexual misconduct, are among nine sponsors of a “Marriage Protection Amendment” introduced last Wednesday.

The bill, referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the first step of the legislative process, proposes a constitutional amendment saying marriage in the United States “shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.”

Similar proposals were introduced but rejected by Congress in 2003, 2004 and 2005/2006. The latest incarnation, however, prompted immediate chatter on political blogs which found it ironic to see Craig and Vitter jumping on the family values bandwagon.

Craig’s arrest last June on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and subsequent guilty plea to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct nearly cost him his job. Under pressure, Craig announced last September that he would resign from the Senate but later changed his mind. He is not seeking re-election in 2008.

Vitter apologized last July after his telephone number appeared in phone records of a woman dubbed the “D.C. Madam” obtained in a prostitution sting. Christian Right leaders who applauded Vitter’s election to the Senate in 2004, including the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, stood by their man as critics like Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt accused Vitter of hypocrisy.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics termed both scandals “further embarrassment to the Religious Right.”

Liberal political Web sites said the marriage measure, which has been around since 2000, isn’t likely to pass in a Democratic-controlled Congress but questioned if Vitter and Craig were the best cosponsors that Republican leaders could find.

A Huffington Post headline called it “Chutzpah defined.”

A People For the American Way blog termed the duo “not exactly the poster boys of the family values crowd or particularly upstanding examples of the supposed sanctity of the ‘union of a man and a woman.'”

The Carpetbagger Report opined: “Yes, two of the principal sponsors of a constitutional amendment to ‘protect’ marriage include one far-right Republican who hired prostitutes and another far-right Republican who was arrested for soliciting gay sex an airport men’s room.”

“The capacity of some people for self-embarrassment is astonishing,” mused Atlanta Journal-Constitution blogger Jay Bookman.

Nineteen states have passed laws and 26 states have amended constitutions to ban gay marriage.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is lead sponsor of the Senate bill. Wicker, who was appointed last December to fill a Senate seat vacated by the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott, said a federal law is needed because “activist judges are attempting to redefine one of our nation’s most sacred institutions.”

“Rather than giving unelected judges the opportunity to legislate from the bench, this amendment will reaffirm what most Americans believe … marriage is between a man and a woman,” Wicker said in a press release.

According to Project Vote Smart, Wicker is a Southern Baptist who is a deacon, choir member and Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in Tupelo, Miss.

The Senate marriage bill is companion to legislation in the House introduced by Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., another Southern Baptist, whose home church is Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions supporting a federal Marriage Protection Amendment in 2004 and 2006.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.