by RUSTY BENSON | AFA Journal Associate Editor

Like popular TV forensic investigators combing a crime scene for crucial evidence, political observers continue to autopsy the recent national elections for clues to explain the outcome.

However, most – if not all – will overlook the fingerprints of a new alliance of conservative organizations calling itself the Arlington Group.

"Same-sex marriage would not have been such a large issue if the Arlington Group had not existed," says Dr. Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of American Family Association, and primary organizer of the new alliance. "It might have been a minor issue, but there would have been no coordination of efforts. It certainly would not have taken hold like it did, and we would not have gotten 12 new state constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage."

Under Wildmon’s urging, the coalition first came together in the fall of 2002. Leaders from ten pro-family religious organizations met in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss how they might join forces to resist the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Soon the alliance quickly grew to over 50 official members including Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Gary Bauer (American Values), Dr. D. James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries), Charles Colson (Prison Fellowship), Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Bill Bennett (Empower America), Dr. Franklin Graham (Samaritan’s Purse), and many others.

"For the first time, virtually all of the social issues groups are singing off the same sheet of music," said long-time conservative activist Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.

"This has never happened before. From the beginning of the pro-life movement through the development of the pro-family movement, everybody did their own thing. But working together we have helped to reelect the President and added a number of conservative senators."

A unified effort would seem to be common sense, but such an alliance has never come together in the past. "The moral decline of the country had become so precipitant," Weyrich explained, "that many of us sensed that we were about to hang it up as a country."

The possibility of same-sex marriage spreading across the country was the most important indicator of that decline and the primary reason that the formation of the coalition has been successful, he said.

Wildmon recalled that while everyone agreed that the threat of legalized homosexual marriage was the most dire issue, the early meetings were not without tension.

"Most ministry leaders have assertive personalities, so we had to work through that. Everyone has come to realize that some give and take among ourselves is necessary to make progress," he said.

Wildmon now serves as chairman of the group and moderates the meetings. Although formal organization is minimum, the alliance has hired two full-time employees to coordinate the alliance’s activities and communications.

"The Arlington Group was something that was very much needed and the timing was right." Wildmon said. "The Lord has blessed the effort and the alliance has become a very good cooperative vehicle for all of us to address these issues."

Pro-family movement comes of age
Wildmon said that early in the formation of the Arlington Group participants agreed that they were not starting a new organization, but a cooperative alliance.

"We simply agreed to work together on issues on which we could agree. Each individual organization will continue to pursue their own areas of interest, but the alliance allows us to fire all our guns at the same time," Wildmon said.

Such a coordinated effort makes for an effective strategy to promote a conservative agenda in the nation’s capital, Weyrich said. "Any administration is a coalition of interests," he explained. "The Arlington Group will be competing with others for time and attention of lawmakers and the President. The net result of not working together is that lawmakers and the administration pay little attention. But when we are working together, we are a mighty force that can’t be ignored."

The effectiveness of the group is also attracting an important new ally – conservative African-American organizations.

"The Arlington Group has allowed the pro-family movement to cross some borders that haven’t been crossed in the past," Wildmon said. "There may have been some distrust in the past simply because we didn’t know one another, but that is beginning to change since we share the same concerns over many social issues."

Priorities
According to Wildmon, the Arlington Group does not see itself as a one-issue organization. However, the passage of a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one woman and one man is likely to remain the alliance’s top priority for the foreseeable future.

"We have decided at this time that same-sex marriage and issues surrounding it will be the only topics discussed in our main meetings," he said.

One of those critical tangential issues is the appointment of federal judges, particularly the Supreme Court. "I predict a huge upcoming battle, perhaps very soon, over the appointment of Supreme Court justices," Wildmon said. That appointment is significant to the Arlington Group and to the issue of same-sex marriage because if the issue eventually comes before the high court, individual state constitutional amendments could be overturned.

On another front in the same-sex marriage battle, the group is working to bring the newly named "Marriage Protection Amendment" before the Senate and House of Representatives for a vote in 2005. In 2004 the Senate failed to vote on similar legislation and the House defeated it. Many of the lawmakers who did not support the measures will be up for reelection in 2006.

Meanwhile at least 10 more states are expected to bring state constitutional amendments to voters, most in 2006. The Arlington Group is committed to the passage of these state amendments that would protect traditional marriage.

"The Arlington Group has brought together all the pro-family groups to strategize and become more effective in bringing about change in the nation," Wildmon summarized. "We should have been doing this 30 years ago."