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Church leaders rally to support, oppose Proposition 102

A church on 19th Avenue in Phoenix displays a sign urging voters (in Spanish) to vote for Prop. 102.

In a crisp statement, Arizona’s Roman Catholic bishops recently endorsed the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Arizona.
The Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church, also posted on its Web site an emphatic appeal by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted to Catholics to vote yes on the proposition, stating the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman is among issues that are “non-negotiable” and where the faithful “cannot legitimately disagree.”
The statement by Olmsted and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson was instructive in many ways. It reaffirmed the definition of traditional marriage was aligned with the Roman Catholic Church’s deeply held moral beliefs about marriage. Absent the religious overtone, the proposition loses some of the forcefulness of its argument. The bishops’ pastoral letter underscores a fact: The definition of marriage in Proposition 102 is a religious definition as well as a political one.
In their letter, the bishops referred to a previous statement that explained why marriage is important to the church. The explanation drew on the Holy Scriptures, Pope John Paul II’s writings and the church’s catechism. “Marriage, as designed by God, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love,” the bishops wrote.
Why should it be only between a man and a woman? “Man and woman, in their sexual difference, are made for each other,” the bishops wrote. “This complementarity draws them together in a mutually loving union that should always be open to the procreation of children.”
This pastoral statement was issued in March 2006 in support of a more comprehensive ballot proposition, which was narrowly rejected by voters a few months later. The 2006 measure, Prop. 107, would have defined marriage in the traditional sense and would have prevented unmarried couples from obtaining legal status and domestic-partner benefits.
The YesforMarriage.com Supporting Prop. 102 campaign points out that the current ballot measure is different from the one in 2006. But the underlying argument in its favor remains the same: Marriage was instituted by God.
Viewed through the lens of many supporters, it is a moral and religious issue. As one evangelical pastor explained, God would have categorically allowed same-sex marriage in the beginning if he had wanted it. “I don’t mean to be abusive, but He would have created Adam and Steve, and later on Eve would have come into the picture,” said evangelical pastor Juan Ramos.
Indeed, intense support for Prop. 102 exists within the Christian community. Several hundred pastors recently met in private to discuss it. Prop. 102 signs have been placed on the lawns of some churches across the Valley. Clergymen have discussed with it their congregations.
Prop. 102 opponents charged that a good chunk of the money raised by the proposition’s supporters came from members of religious organizations. The Yes on 102 campaign responded it does not track the religion of people who have contributed money. A spokesperson for the campaign would say only that it has received the support of people from all walks of life, including the faith community.
The battle within
But dissenting voices exist — even among clergymen.
Some religious leaders spoke against Proposition 102 and shattered the perception of universal support for the amendment within the Christian community. They mainly argue that the amendment is less about the definition of marriage and more about etching discrimination in the state Constitution against a minority, whose lifestyle proponents of the ballot measure disapprove. For those religious leaders, it is a civil issue, a matter of affording equal status for citizens, regardless of their sexual persuasions. And the ministers also cite their religious and moral convictions to buttress their opposition.
Their position reflects an internal debate within the Christian community about the treatment of gays. It is a pull between traditional and progressive views of sexuality. It’s also a seeming difference in emphasis: One side focuses on preserving the institution of marriage, which is under assault from activists and judges.
The other side emphasizes Jesus’ inclusive social teachings, which are, in turn, full of emphasis on love and care for the “least” in society. The Catholic Church says homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law.” But the church also teaches compassion: Men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
Among the dissenting voices is the Rev. John Fife, former minister of the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.
“There is a new awareness within churches and congregations that natural law, which that (traditional marriage) has been based on, is no longer true in this case,” he said. “What we have learned in recent years is that, in fact, homosexuality is natural, that it is not a choice, but it is a part of how human beings have been created.”
He noted that homosexual tendencies have been identified in many other species.
Fife was one of about 30 clergymen and clergywomen who met in Tucson in September and spoke against Prop. 102.  
Fife provided a theological perspective to the opposition.
In the Catholic bishops’ statement, one of their strongest arguments for traditional marriage is that only a sexual union of a man and a woman can “cooperate with God in the procreation of new human life.” The bishops also cited Biblical passages to illustrate the Church’s view of marriage. Genesis 2:24 says a man shall “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” A few verses before that, God created a “helper” to Adam — Eve.    
“What the bishops leave out is that there are many marriage relationships that are not based on the possibility of procreation,” Fife said, adding that women past child-bearing age get married all the time.
The union of one man and one woman is not the only definition or basis of marriage in the Bible, he said. In the Bible, there are “all kinds of marriages and other relationships.”
There is, for one, polygamy. Many great prophets, among them Abraham, were polygamous. When Sarah, Abraham’s wife, initially could not conceive, she gave him her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, who became the mother of Ishmael. Jacob had two wives — Rachel and Leah. David had many wives and concubines; so did his son, Solomon.
Fife’s point is that if a strong argument for marriage is drawn from the Holy Scriptures, then the argument is selective. Biblically, marriage can also be defined as the union between a man and more than one woman, which is not socially accepted in the U.S. today.
Fife and other ministers opposed to Prop. 102 believe it is not about upholding marriage and the family. After all, everyone supports upholding the family and marriage, Bishop Kirk Smith wrote on the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona’s Web page.
“Everybody wants to see a man and a wife living happily together with happy childr
en and so forth. There is no question about that. Marriage is a good thing,” Smith told the Arizona Capitol Times.
What his church does not want to do, he said, is “penalize people who have also found a way of living together that is outside of the (traditional definition of marriage)” but is “within the bounds of faithful, committed relationships.”
Smith argued that Arizona statute already bans same-sex marriage. The “real aim” of those who are pushing the ballot measure is to ensure that gay couples married elsewhere won’t be afforded the full protection of the law here, he said.
What Would Jesus Do?
Gay couples are not a threat to marriage, he said, adding that Jesus didn’t specifically address gay marriage.
“It is interesting that some of the people who are the most adamant about this often quote the Scriptures, and yet Jesus is quite adamant about divorce, and yet that doesn’t seem to bother people in some of the more conservative or fundamentalist churches,” he said. “It is OK to get divorced even though Jesus says it is wrong to be divorced, but it’s wrong for them to be in a homosexual relationship when Jesus doesn’t “say anything about that.”
Rev. Harold Clinehens of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson said the proposition merely serves to “stir people up” and point them away from the real issues. “I don’t know how it is threatening to a heterosexual family if people who are gay or otherwise for whatever reasons wished to have the same civil rights as those who are heterosexual and married,” he said. “The way a particular religion or a number of religions define marriage shouldn’t find their way into civil constitutional proceedings. That’s the issue for me. Regardless of what one thinks about blessing of same sex unions or gay marriage or however you want to talk about it, the issue is religion should not be that directly influencing public law and policy.”
Smith’s article, where he wrote that Prop. 102 is an “insidious attempt to exclude gay and lesbian partnerships from full protection under the law,” has spawned a passionate discussion of the subject on the Episcopal diocese’s Web site.
For those who disagreed with the bishop’s view, a recurring argument in support of the proposition has been that state supreme courts outside of Arizona have stricken down the type of bans on same-sex marriage that Arizona has on the books.
Smith’s views were discussed in a community comment section on the Episcopal diocese Web site.
“We believe in democracy,” David Cantelme wrote in response to Smith’s views. “Let those who want gay marriage elect legislators to vote their way, or get the signatures and take it to a vote of the people.”
He added: “Having judges substitute their preference for democratic action is wrong. This amendment stops the judges.”
Carol Scott left this comment: “I think this is more complex than just giving gays the right to a civil union. It is changing a fundamental moral code that God defined. I do not believe man has the right to change that, just because we feel that it seems ‘nice or fair’ to do. I don’t know when He said it was OK to change it. Do you?”
While in St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention, Pastor Juan Ramos of Love International Ministries cited a long-term issue important to him: the appointment of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. They need to be there, he said, when issues that conservative voters are passionate about, such as abortion and marriage, land on the justices’ desks. 
Back in Phoenix, Ramos has mentioned Prop. 102 in his church.
“We see marriage from the point of view of how the Lord instituted it from the beginning: one man, one woman,” he said. “If we set out to redefine what God instituted, we will bring confusion in generations to come.”
How Ramos broke the issue down to a personal level shows why the proposition strongly resonates within the evangelical community and explains the level of enthusiasm among Christians for the issue.
Ramos argued that marriage is the foundation of society. If it crumbles, the whole of society goes into “very shaky” territory.
“It will just fall,” he said.
Lopsided fundraising
As of Sept. 22, the YesforMarriage.com Supporting Prop. 102 had received $7 million in contributions, and quite a bit of it came in the form of large contributions from a handful of people across the state.
The healthy monetary support means the campaign won’t have a difficult time getting its message across. In fact, TV and radio commercials depicting traditional families have been airing for the last couple of weeks.
YesForMarriage.com spokesman Kelly Molique said the fundraising success is the “clearest indication yet of where Arizonans stand on the issue of marriage.”
Sen. Linda Gray, a strong backer of the proposition, said this time around, there is no “confusion.” “It is… 20 simple words,” she said, referring to the marriage definition. Last election’s initiative had also dealt with domestic partner benefits, she said.
Report of the campaign’s financial success came on the heels of a Cronkite/Eight survey that shows voters giving the marriage amendment a 7-percentage point lead. Some 49 percent of likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Proposition 102, while 42 percent were against it. The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Nine percent, meanwhile, said they don’t know or have no opinion.
Two campaign committees oppose the marriage amendment: Arizona Together Opposed to Prop. 102 and No on Prop. 102.
No on Prop. 102 is based in Tucson; Arizona Together Opposed to Prop. 102 is led by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was a leading voice in the campaign to defeat Prop. 107 in 2006.
Compared to the Prop. 102 campaign, the opposition is sorely lagging in contributions. As of Sept. 22, No on Prop. 102 had received more than $42,000. Arizona Together raised nearly $100,000 during the same period.
“Our biggest problem really is we’re being out-funded, quite severely,” said Jim Burroway of No on Prop. 102. But Burroway said they have been able to buy some radio time mostly in Tucson.
Supporters of Prop. 107 didn’t have the same financial advantage. In 2006, opponents raised about $800,000 more than Prop. 107 supporters.
Burroway said he wouldn’t be surprised if Prop. 102 supporters push the final tally to more than $10 million before the election, considering the rate the campaign is raising money.
Burroway reported that the response to their campaign has been encouraging. The clergy opposed to Prop. 102 had earlier contacted the campaign to ask how they could more effectively send their message.
“I have actually been very surprised and encouraged at the number of people who really are kind of fed up with having to vote on this again after we just said “no” to it two years ago,” Burroway said. “There is a lot of anger and resentment that with the economy the way it is today, especially with a million Arizonans with no health care, with one in four schools that is failing, that this is what the Legislature decided was more important to put on the ballot.”
Sinema reported a more optimistic picture as far as fundraising.
“We are right on target,” she said. “We don’t need $7 million to win.”
Sinema also said money is not what wins or loses campaigns. “Take a look at the campaigns: What they say and who they talk to. That’s how you make a decision on who wins and who loses,” she said.
The opposit
ion in Arizona is facing another challenge. California, whose high court overturned a state law banning same-sex marriage, faces a similar ballot measure, which would place the one man, one woman definition of marriage in that state’s Constitution.
Resources that could have gone to Arizona might instead be going to California, where the stakes are higher.
“That is actually having a huge affect,” said a source familiar with the opposition campaign in Arizona, who agreed to speak on the condition of not being identified. “The entire gay community is focused on winning in California because we really do have something at stake. And so that has, I think, probably been the single biggest difficulty we’ve had (in) raising money.”

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