Religious leaders push for gay marriage ban
Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ” Hundreds of pastors have called on their congregations to fast and pray for passage of a ballot measure in November that would put an end to gay marriage in California.
The collective act of piety, starting Wednesday and culminating three days before the election in a revival for as many as 100,000 people at the San Diego Chargers’ stadium, comes as church leaders across California put people, money and powerful words behind Proposition 8.
Some pastors around the state and nation are encouraging their flocks to forgo solid food for up to 40 days in the biblical tradition.
Jim Garlow, the pastor of the evangelical Skyline Church in San Diego County, said he expects up to 100 young adults to spend five-plus weeks on his campus, subsisting on soup, juice and the promise of societal salvation.
“This is not political to us. We see it as very spiritual,” said Garlow, a leader of an interfaith coalition that has held monthly teleconferences, shared sermons and solicited donations for the ballot measure.
Alarmed by a California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, churches of many faiths have banded together in support of a measure that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. They have become the single largest force behind the measure, recruiting volunteers, raising money, registering voters, manning phone banks and distributing campaign literature.
Under federal law, religious organizations cannot endorse political candidates but are free to campaign on social issues without endangering their tax-exempt status.
Along with evangelical Christian groups such as Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, the leaders of Roman Catholic, Mormon, Southern Baptist, Orthodox Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventist congregations have endorsed the measure and urged the faithful to give.
The Knights of Columbus have given nearly $1.3 million, making the Catholic fraternal organization the largest single contributor to Yes on 8. Donations from individual Mormons account for more than $6.4 million of about $17.3 million raised so far, according to Mormonsfor8.com, a Web site set up by a church member.
Religious leaders have addressed the issue from the pulpit, in Sunday schools and Bible study meetings, and through telephone calls, letters and visits to parishioners.
The California Conference of Catholic Bishops has given the state’s 1,600 parishes Sunday bulletin inserts about Proposition 8, and every diocese is holding workshops in English and Spanish.
“This Supreme Court decision was a huge wake-up call for Catholics. It was shocking,” said Bill May of San Francisco, leader of Catholics for Protect Marriage. “The sense is that this is the last chance to restore the definition of marriage, and if unsuccessful, it is going to have serious ramifications for California and across the country.”
Mormon congregations in California are taking marching orders straight from Salt Lake City. A June 29 letter in which the Mormon president asked members to lend support to the proposed amendment has been read repeatedly at church services, along with a 1995 church proclamation that warns: “The disintegration of the family will bring … the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
Thousands of same-sex couples have tied the knot in California in the three months since the nation’s most populous state legalized gay marriage. Massachusetts is the only other state to allow gays to wed.
Liberal congregations also have entered the Proposition 8 debate, though not as vigorously as their conservative brethren.
A coalition of religious leaders called California Faith for Equality has been working to persuade people of faith to oppose the ballot measure on spiritual and social justice grounds. California’s Episcopal bishops also have come out against the measure, which a Field Poll reported last week was opposed by 55 percent of likely voters.
“Everybody understands that Jesus, in his own culture, was notorious and persecuted for consorting with outcasts,” said the Rev. Peter Laarman, a United Church of Christ minister who opposes the gay marriage ban. “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.”
Yes on 8 managers are shying away from putting a purely ideological spin on their message because they risk alienating California voters, said Peter Montgomery, a spokesman for People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group that monitors the religious right.
“They are really trying to have a public face to their campaign that … isn’t just about quoting Scripture,” Montgomery said. “It’s a different message when they are speaking to each other and the people they are mobilizing. It’s about Armageddon, it’s about doing war with Satan.”
The pre-election push by many churches was on display last Sunday at Garlow’s Skyline Church. A table outside was stacked with Prop. 8 literature, including a bumper sticker with two children and the words: “We want a mommy and a daddy, please vote ‘Yes’ on Prop 8!” The church also has distributed envelopes for its to make “offerings” of money to the campaign and inserted voter registration forms and applications for vote-by-mail ballots inside its weekly bulletins.
Skyline members Bob and Sue Ramsey said they support the church’s involvement.
“I think the biggest threat to this proposition not passing is people not understanding what it is about, and that is why it must be discussed in church and everywhere else,” Sue Ramsey said.
Garlow spent part of his Sunday sermon preaching about homosexuality in general and part advising his flock on their role in making gay marriage illegal again in California. He encouraged parishioners to reach out to gay friends and relatives, but discouraged them from attending same-sex weddings.
“Personally, I would not go because my presence would be a misinterpretation of an endorsement of what is happening there,” he said. “The influence you have over others is a gift of God, and you must be careful with it.”
” Associated Press Writer Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.