Washington -- LDS members are flooding the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch and his colleagues with phone calls, e-mails and letters urging them to approve a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Hatch's office reported receiving some 8,000 letters or e-mails and more than 1,000 calls since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged its members to contact the Senate on the issue.
Sen. Bob Bennett's office says staffers have received more than 2,500 contacts from Utahns since the church issued its letter of support, "a definite increase in correspondence," according to spokeswoman Mary Jane Collipriest.
The massive lobby effort comes as senators are expected to vote today on whether to end debate on the constitutional amendment and move to a final vote. Hatch and Bennett hardly need persuading on how to vote.
Hatch is a co-sponsor of the amendment and both senators say they oppose gay marriage.
Critics, however, denounce Republican leaders for wasting time on a politically charged issue that even proponents acknowledge won't get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the Senate.
"It is clear the reason for this debate is to divide our society, to pit one against another," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said this week on the Senate floor. "This is another one of the president's efforts to frighten, to distort, to distract, and to confuse America."
Reid said it was a distraction from real issues of high gas prices, the war in Iraq and the national debt.
The Nevada Democrat, who is Mormon, has received about 4,000 phone calls about the amendment, roughly 450 of which were from callers who said they were motivated by the church statement. Reid voted for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and also voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but he opposes amending the U.S. Constitution.
His press secretary, Sharyn Stein, said the senator has not specifically mentioned the LDS Church in his comments about the amendment but supports the church's position against same-sex unions.
Stein added that the church asked its members to express themselves, and Reid has been doing so "loudly and repeatedly on the Senate floor."
Hatch also is outspoken on the amendment, calling it a "critical issue" for the country.
He took to the Senate floor Tuesday saying that while the Senate may not be able to agree to adopt the change, Americans have already "arrived at consensus" to ban gay marriages. He bashed "renegade judges" that have allowed such unions.
"The constituents who support this amendment, and others like it in the states, understand do not - our marriage laws permeate our entire culture and we need to be wary about letting the judiciary foist some untested, and frankly unwanted, social experiment on an entire nation," Hatch said.
"Unless we allow the American people to decide this issue themselves through the amendment process, it is only a matter of time before some renegade judges take it upon themselves to decide it for the American people."
Equality Utah Chairwoman Jane Marquardt said there are more pressing issues requiring the Senate's attention, but she nevertheless welcomed the chance for open dialogue on gay marriage.
"We view this as an opportunity to have this discussion to educate people that gay people are already here and are contributing members of society," says Marquardt, who is gay and married her partner in a Canadian ceremony. "Do I wish the Senate already agreed with me? Yes. But I'm not surprised we have to have a discussion about it."
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for one, doesn't need more debate to know where he stands.
Romney, who is Mormon and a prospective GOP presidential candidate, sent a letter to senators Friday urging approval of the marriage amendment. Massachusetts, because of a state court decision, allows same-sex marriages.
"Our society, like all known civilizations in recorded history, has favored the union of a man and a woman with the special designation and benefits of marriage," Romney wrote in the letter released publicly Monday. "In this respect, it has elevated the relationship of a legally bound man and woman over other relationships."