BOSTON -- Conservative religious and political leaders rallied Sunday in opposition of gay marriage, arguing that their rights to religious expression are being threatened.
The event, being broadcast to churches nationally, is part of a larger effort to energize conservative voters before the Nov. 7 congressional elections.
"Here in Massachusetts, activist judges struck a blow to the foundation of civilization -- the family," Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, a likely presidential candidate, told an applauding crowd of about 1,000 people, some of whom responded with "Amen."
Romney, during his speech inside Tremont Temple Baptist Church, criticized the state's highest court for its 2004 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
"What (the judges) ignored is that marriage is not primarily about adults; marriage is about the nurturing and development of children. ... Every child deserves a mother and a father," he said.
The Washington-based Family Research Council chose Boston for the site of its annual "Liberty Sunday" because Massachusetts is the only state that has legalized marriage for same-sex couples.
"When we look at what has happened with same-sex marriage, as it began in this state and threatens to spread across the country, we've seen in its wake the loss of religious freedoms and the ability to speak out based upon one's moral convictions," Tony Perkins, the organization's president, said Sunday.
Eight states will vote in November on amendments banning gay marriage, following 20 states that previously approved bans.
Prompted by a ruling from its highest court, Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004. Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to consider a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on Nov. 9.
David Parker, a speaker at the Boston event, was arrested last year after he refused to leave the grounds of his 6-year-old son's school in Lexington after officials said they would not remove the boy from discussions about homosexuality.
"When religious liberty is compromised, all liberty is compromised," Parker said at a news conference before the rally.
But the issue is less about liberty and more about political posturing, according to the Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Lynn said he's not worried that the Sunday night program will change the minds of voters. In a way, he said, they're preaching to the choir.
"But it's the choir that has become the majority in these elections ... (The Family Research Council) has escalated their rhetoric and are trying to use this as a fire under their supporters," making sure they cast their ballots in November.
Among the ballot initiatives in November to prohibit gay marriage, passage is considered certain in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee, but gay-rights strategists believe their side is at least competitive in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, where Romney spent Sunday morning with Rep. Mark Green, a Republican running for re-election.
In the Boston speech, Romney, who is a Mormon, cautioned against discrimination: "I believe God loves all of his children."
A statement from Mass Equality, a group that advocates same-sex marriage, denounced the governor's appearance at the rally, saying, "Mitt Romney has come home for one day to Massachusetts for one reason only -- to continue courting the extreme right wing of the Republican Party."