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Churches plan a big push against same-sex marriage

Organizers hope to get 1 million from various religions to post lawn signs backing Prop. 8 in unison next month.

August 24, 2008|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Early on a late September morning, if all goes according to plan, 1 million Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, evangelical Christians, Sikhs and Hindus will open their front doors, march down their front walks and plant "Yes on Proposition 8" signs in their yards to show they support repealing same-sex marriage in California.

It is a bold idea, one that may be difficult to pull off. But whether or not 1 million lawn signs are planted in unison, the plan underscores what some observers say is one of the most ambitious interfaith political organizing efforts ever attempted in the state. Moreover, political analysts say, the alliances across religious boundaries could herald new ways of building coalitions around political issues in California.

"Pan-religious, faith-based political action strategies . . . I think we are going to see a lot more of [this] in the future," said Gaston Espinosa, a professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College.

The greatest involvement in the campaign has come from Mormons, Catholics and evangelical Christians, who say they are working together much more closely than they did eight years ago when a similar measure, Proposition 22, was on the ballot.

Mark Jansson, a Mormon who is a member of the Protect Marriage Coalition, said members of his group are also reaching out to Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.

Organizers say the groups turned to each other because of the California Supreme Court's ruling in May allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. Thousands of gay couples have wed in the state since June 17, the first day same-sex marriages became legal.

"This is a rising up over a 5,000-year-old institution that is being hammered right now," said Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church, an evangelical congregation in La Mesa. Garlow said that, while he supported Proposition 22, he was not nearly as involved as this time around, when he has helped organize 3,400-person conference calls across denominations to coordinate campaign support for the proposed constitutional amendment.

"What binds us together is one common obsession: . . . marriage," Garlow said.

He added that many people of faith, regardless of their religion, believe that "if Proposition 8 fails, there is an inevitable loss of religious freedom."

Other religious leaders vehemently disagree with Garlow and are working just as furiously to defeat Proposition 8. But their efforts have not been as carefully orchestrated as those of the initiative's religious supporters.

Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, a liberal congregation that has long supported the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, said "fair-minded Californians" should be concerned about some of the tactics and arguments of faith leaders on the other side.

"I will defend to my last breath the right of any of those folks to exercise their religion as they believe they are called to do it," she added. "But I'll resist to my last breath, vote, e-mail and blog their right to inflict their religious beliefs on the Constitution of the state of California."

Russell said that the idea that the court's decision infringed on religious liberty was a "red herring." Divorce is legal in California, she said, but that doesn't mean that Roman Catholic priests have to perform marriages for people who have been divorced.

As the campaign intensifies this fall, both sides in the fight over Proposition 8 say they expect religious leaders and their congregations to continue to play a big role.

To demonstrate that there is significant clergy support for same-sex marriage, the group California Faith for Equality has produced a video of priests, reverends and rabbis talking about why they support gay marriage.

In one, as Pachelbel's Canon plays in the background, the Rev. Neil Thomas, a minister at Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, looks at the camera and declares: "I absolutely think that Jesus would support the freedom to marry, and because of that, as a follower of Jesus, it is absolutely incumbent upon me to support the freedom to marry as well."

Adds Rabbi Zach Shapiro of Temple Akiba in Culver City: "My faith supports the freedom to marry because, as a Jew, I have a responsibility to fight for what is right . . . and to help bring goodness into the world."

There are plans in the works to make another video that includes Muslim leaders as well as Spanish-speaking religious leaders.

Kerry Chaplin, interfaith organizing director of California Faith for Equality, also said her group plans to work with churches to encourage parishioners to talk to their friends and neighbors about why they should oppose Proposition 8.

On the other side, Garlow said pastors are planning a 40-day fast leading up to the election. He is also planning several rallies, including one that he hopes will include 300,000 youths.

Catholics and Mormons, meanwhile, are organizing their own congregations to try to sway voters, make contributions and get out the vote.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic group, recently donated $1 million to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church, said it was too early to say whether the coalitions being built around Proposition 8 would carry over into other issues.

But, he added: "It's an interesting time to get to know each other in different ways."

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jessica.garrison @latimes.com

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