In recent months, pro-family groups across five states have successfully launched grass-roots efforts to protect marriage in their states by through petition drives based on church-going evangelical Christians. With the deadlines for the petitions approaching, the groups have given positive estimates and outlooks on their critical effort.
Organizers in Oregon, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana and Ohio scurried to get a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in their states as early as last year when the Massachusetts State Court announced that gay marriage would be legalized beginning in May 2004. With the rebellious action of San Francisco and Mulnomah county jumping on the legalized gay marriage boat, the pro-family groups expedited their efforts, with most of them launching state-wide campaigns by late March.
In Oregon, where Mulnomah county lies, the Defense of Marriage Coalition has just three weeks left to collect the 100,840 valid signatures needed to place a gay marriage ban on the November ballot. While organizers refused to release the number of signatures they have yet received, volunteers have said they are counting on 1,500 Oregon churches to help.
"We're optimistic and we're hopeful," said Tim Nashif, the group's political director.
In Little Rock, the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee has collected 109,000 signatures 28,250 more than what is needed by the July 2 deadline.
According to Chris Stewart, one of the lead organizers of the Committee, the petition drive is a Pre-emptive strike in the battle to protect marriage.
"We have seen what has begun in our culture across the nation," Stewart said. "And we realize it is coming to 'a town near you."'
Stewart said 25,000 more signatures from two church-based groups have yet to be turned in.
In Michigan, volunteers with the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage signed up 130,000 people by the end of May; they need 317,000 valid signatures.
Similarly in Montana, the Family Foundation collected more than half of the 41,029 signatures needed to get the constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
In Ohio, the Citizens for Community Values are began leading a similar petition drive, which would need the support of 323,000 individuals by August 4.
"Marriage is at the very core of who we are as people of faith," said Phil Burress, one of the organizers.
These citizen-driven petitions, if successful, would put the gay marriage debate directly on the state ballot without interference from the executive branch, thus allowing voters to choose their stance on the issue.
Recent polls in Michigan, Montana and Ohio show voters support a constitutional amendment by an average of 56 percent. While there has been no such poll in Arkansas, Stewart says the Bible Belt state does not need one. The faithful in Oregon also express a similar conviction that the gay marriage ban will reach the ballot.
"People are sincere about their beliefs," said Ken Keeley, one of the volunteers to Oregons Defense of Marriage Coalition. "They want to make a change."
"When everything's OK, you don't have a tendency to act," said Keeley. "But it gets to the point where you get concerned, and you have to act."