By JEREMIAH G. DYS

CHARLESTON -- West Virginians want to define marriage for themselves. They do not want their government to set a policy -– and they especially do not want courts to impose a system -– that knowingly deprives children of a mom or a dad.

How do I know? Because we asked 513 registered voters in West Virginia if they would support an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution that defined marriage, and 73 percent said, "Yes." That same percentage said they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate who supported such a measure. Frankly, I am not terribly surprised. West Virginians know that children do best in a home with their married mom and dad. Why change it?

But, the response to the last question surprised me. When asked, "Should a court be able to make same-sex marriage legal in West Virginia?," 80 percent of West Virginians shouted, "NO!"

Outside special interest groups should not decide this issue. We should. Theirs is an agenda of legislative and judicial chaos that undermines the family by cheapening marriage. A marriage amendment, defined by and for West Virginians, keeps marriage as we have always known it to be.

That is why it surprised me that Gov. Joe Manchin has been reluctant to lead such an effort. He has seen how marriage has been redefined by judicial decree in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. What is to prevent the same from happening here?

It makes some wonder if his association with Tim Gill, known by several as the "Gay Godfather," might influence his reluctance. Gill, the leading financier of the radical homosexual agenda, has financed efforts to defeat marriage amendments across the country –- to the tune of $3.8 million in 2004 and more than $500,000 so far this year!

Since 2004, Gill and his billionaire buddies have given more than $500,000 to the Democratic Governor's Association –- the political action committee chaired by Gov. Manchin. I truly hope that one of the top donors to the Governor's PAC has not exerted influence over what happens here in West Virginia.

What we do know is that outside special interests, like Gill, are trying to do what only West Virginians should: define marriage. Currently there is no law in West Virginia that defines marriage. In fact, the only law preventing the recognition of same-sex "marriage" is the very law that the California and Connecticut courts ruled "unconstitutional."

West Virginians should define marriage for themselves and not allow outside, radical change groups to redefine it. A memo entitled, "Make Change, Not Lawsuits" authored by such groups as the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Equality Federation articulates the strategy. In the memo they urge couples to get "married" and then "demand" that their friends, families, and communities recognize them as "married." But, they warn against filing lawsuits ... for now.

The memo describes a calculated, sleeper cell strategy for redefining marriage. You see, what happens in California is not designed to stay in California and it won't. Through normalization efforts, legislative and judicial activism, and chaotic strategy, the battle that began in San Francisco is coming. And what is the next front in the battle for our marriages? Says their memo, "We need to start with states where we have the best odds of winning."

That would be the minority of states -– like West Virginia –- that have no constitutional amendment affirmatively defining marriage.

That current law might protect against this stealthy advance means nothing. The citizens of Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut thought their law defended against the redefinition of marriage too. They were wrong. In each of those states, judges -– not citizens -– redefined marriage.

Our leaders should be proactive and pass legislation immediately that would allow West Virginians to define marriage at a special election in 2009.

The threat to marriage is immediate. The time to defend marriage in West Virginia is now.

Dys is the president and general counsel of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia. The poll and memo referred to in this commentary may be downloaded at www.familypolicywv.com.

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