In a dramatic challenge that underscored sharp divisions among churches over homosexuality, Southern California bishops from three major mainline Protestant denominations joined rabbis and other clergy on Sunday in denouncing the anti-gay marriage initiative on the March 7 California ballot.
Speaking to an estimated 600 people who turned out for a teach-in that was part religious revival and part campaign rally, bishops from the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church charged that Proposition 22--known as the Knight initiative--is the result of fear and the bearer of bigotry.
The meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena marked the first concerted response by clergy from mainline Protestant and Jewish denominations to an unfolding campaign in support of the measure by the state's Roman Catholic bishops, independent evangelical and Pentecostal churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.
The great divide within and between religious groups was underscored by the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Church.
"My sisters and brothers, we are people of God. It is a tragedy that the good leaders of the Mormon Church and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese have allowed themselves to be hijacked by the forces of intolerance and bigotry that gave birth to this hate-filled initiative."
Outside the church, half a dozen conservative Christians from Cornerstone Ministries in Los Angeles carried picket signs listing Bible verses decrying homosexuality and warning those at the meeting that "Judgment is coming by God."
Proposition 22, officially known as the Protection of Marriage Act, would bar California from recognizing same-sex marriages that may be allowed in other states. Although no other state currently permits same-sex marriages, the ballot measure is viewed as a preemptive strike.
Public opinion polls indicate that the measure, placed on the ballot by state Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), enjoys widespread support among California voters.
Speaker after speaker Sunday night urged voters to compare the struggle for equal rights for gay men and lesbians with the 1960s civil rights struggle.
"This Knight initiative is not about saving the sacred rite of marriage, saving the family, or saving traditional values. Proposition 22 is about fear--fear of something Mr. Knight doesn't like, doesn't understand or doesn't agree with," said the Rev. Mel White, who is gay.
Gay couples, he said, are denied more than 1,300 rights enjoyed by married couples, including the automatic right to a spouse's pension, inheritance, bereavement leave and the ability to file joint bankruptcy.
The uphill campaign to defeat the measure got a boost Sunday night when bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church showed up to denounce the ballot measure.
They were joined by Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, who like other speakers said Knight had personal issues in pushing the initiative, noting that Knight's son is gay and that his brother died of AIDS.
"Sen. Knight is trying to work out his family issues on all Californians," Eger said.
Some speakers directly challenged a traditional interpretation of scriptural injunctions against homosexuality, among them Rabbi Steve Jacobs of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. He recalled the Genesis story in which God tells Adam and Eve to multiply.
"Friends," he cried out, "it's about time we discover an Eden for grown-ups!"