Two guys kissing set to steal the Super Bowl show

Next Sunday's football final will highlight an extra showdown: between liberals and the religious right

It's already a quintessentially American event, combining razzmatazz, cheerleaders, and multimillionaire sportsmen in a few excessive hours of made-for-TV entertainment. But this year, the Super Bowl will be jollified by a side-plot that perhaps reflects the true state of the nation: an angry dispute between liberals and the religious right.

Women's groups and gay activists are squaring up against opponents from the "family values" lobby over the contents of two very different television adverts that are due to air when the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in next Sunday's finale of the American football season. One of the commercials carries a hard-hitting anti-abortion message, and was made by a conservative Christian organisation. The other couldn't be more different: it publicises a gay dating website called Mancrunch, and features two men holding hands on a sofa, and then passionately kissing.

Their existence immediately sparked predictable outrage from both ends of the political spectrum. Now this year's Super Bowl broadcaster, CBS, is being bombarded with calls to keep either or both of them from the airwaves. The anti-abortion advertisement stars Tim Tebow, one of the nation's best-known college football players, and his mother, Pam, speaking on the theme "celebrate family, celebrate life". It sees Ms Tebow recall how she ignored medical advice to terminate her pregnancy with her now-famous son in 1987 after suffering a short illness.

Left-leaning groups describe that message as divisive, and therefore inconsistent with the values of the nation's most watched sporting event. They are further upset because the evangelical group that made it, Focus on the Family, has long campaigned against gay marriage. "By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organisation, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers," reads a complaint from the Women's Media Center.

Scarcely less controversial, given Middle America's quaintly repressive attitude towards public displays of homosexuality, is the proposed Super Bowl advert for Mancrunch, in which two men sitting on a sofa watching an American football game appear to become suddenly attracted to each other. They promptly begin kissing. Its contents have been condemned by, among other groups, the American Family Association, whose spokesman, Tim Wildmon, believes it could corrupt the nation's youth: "CBS should not put parents in the position of answering embarrassing and awkward questions from their children while they're just trying to enjoy a football game."

CBS has so far not commented on whether it will allow either advert to run. But the company is only too aware of the PR difficulties that censorship can bring. In 2004, it was widely criticised for preventing a liberal church running a commercial that highlighted its welcoming stance towards gays and lesbians.

Whatever their content, any advertisements screened during the Super Bowl are guaranteed to make disproportionate headlines because of their cost, which reflects the vast audience they receive. A 30-second half-time spot during this year's game will cost $2.5m (£1.6m).

Major brands traditionally use the the event to premiere extravagant new ad campaigns. As a result, commercial interludes are for many viewers as much a part of the Super Bowl experience as the game itself.

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