NEW YORK -- Even as they issue dire warnings, many longtime opponents of the gay-rights movement are welcoming the furor over same-sex marriage as a chance to expand the audience for their unfavorable views of homosexuality.
Activists in this camp -- clergy, conservative lobbyists, and those who say they moved away from homosexuality via prayer or therapy -- have been dismayed by gay-rights advances in recent years. They also see new opportunities for their cause if, as polls have indicated, a majority of the Americans oppose the spreading push for gay marriage.
"People are taking us more seriously," said Joseph Nicolosi, a leading proponent of the contested concept that homosexuality is a disorder treatable by therapy.
"People were just hoping this issue would go away, and now they're forced to think about it, and make some evaluation of what homosexuality is," he said. His organization, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, reported an increase in inquiries and donations as the marriage debate escalates.
The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said he has been campaigning against gay activism since 1972. "America stands at a defining moment," he said.
Leading gay activists acknowledge that public opinion on same-sex marriage is deeply divided, but they hope middle-of-the-road Americans are not swayed by the messages coming from entrenched opponents of gay rights.
"These organizations call themselves `profamily,' " said Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "But people should see them as part of the antigay industry, raising lots of money by peddling factual inaccuracies about gays and lesbians, inciting fear of people who are different."
Those on the front lines of the campaign against gay activism cite diverse motives for their efforts.
Sheldon, a Presbyterian minister, traces his strong views to his background as a theology student. "When you advocate homosexual marriage, you are violating the mandate of the Creation narrative," he said.
Nicolosi said he became an activist for solely secular reasons: He was angry at the American Psychological Association for condemning a decade ago as potentially harmful the practice of therapy that attempts to change homosexuals.
Another group of gay-rights opponents attributes its zeal to personal experiences as gays and lesbians. One such campaigner is Alan Chambers, executive director of Exodus International. The Florida-based group, encompassing 100 US and Canadian ministries, promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ."
Both sides in the debate accuse their adversaries of intolerance. "A lot of Americans believe in `Live and let live,' but they are very uncomfortable with same-sex marriage," said Glenn Stanton, a marriage-issues analyst with the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. "The other side is trying to bully people in believing it's just fine."