2016-07-27
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.--Fourteen words. "Only" 14, states a flyer from the Protection of Marriage Committee backing Proposition 22, which would define marriage in California: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Despite its brevity, the measure on the March 7 California ballot has sharply divided people of faith in the state and beyond. And few religious leaders are predicting how the voting will go. A Southern Baptist, for example: "I don't believe homosexuality is normal," said the Rev. Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. "This isn't a civil rights issue. This is a moral issue." Or a Reform Jewish perspective: "Why is it that so many cannot remember the simple religious teaching that we are--all of us and each of us, straight and gays and lesbians--we are all children of the Divine, Creator of the Universe?" The question came in a letter from Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C., sent in January to congregations of the Pacific Southwest Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Along with other generally conservative Christian groups, California Southern Baptists line up in support of Proposition 22, which seeks to define marriage in California as strictly heterosexual. The Pacific Southwest Council of the UAHC opposes the measure, joined by numerous mainline Protestant leaders and others. The campaign over Proposition 22--called the Limit on Marriage in
the official California Voter Information Guide but the Protection of Marriage Initiative by supporters-- has made unexpected religious bedfellows, like the California Catholic Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the California Southern Baptist Convention. They're giving both volunteers and money to the effort. And the involvement of some church groups has stirred even more controversy. The California Catholic Conference has contributed over $300,000 to the pro-Proposition 22 campaign, according to the Rev. Greg Coiro of the media relations office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Sid Price, a Mormon and volunteer coordinator for the Protection of Marriage Committee, said that Mormon financial support had come almost exclusively from individual members rather than the church. Price said the church's financial involvement was limited to the cost of a letter mailed to 159 church leaders earlier in the campaign. Kerrie Anderson, a member of the Thousand Oaks, Calif., Fourth Ward, the Mormon equivalent to congregation, identified the main Mormon contribution as campaign infrastructure. With wards systematically divided among California's geographical territory, Anderson said, the campaign for Proposition 22 used the Mormon organization as a "framework in order to cover the whole state" and ensure contact with every voter. Working with backers from other organizations, Anderson said,
Mormons identified supportive or undecided voters in order to follow up with voting reminders about the initiative, sponsored by Republican State Sen. Pete Knight. Carl Doerfler, a member of the High Council of the Thousand Oaks Stake of the Mormon Church, said a letter read in services Jan. 16, 2000, alerted Mormons to the opportunity to "help maintain and strengthen the family as a fundamental unit of society" by supporting Proposition 22. Sitting beneath portraits of 14 grandchildren, Doerfler said the church had tried to clarify the principles from its own teachings applied to the proposition. "The family is ordained of God," Doerfler said. "We feel it's the very core of ... the heavenly plan of our Father." In a 1995 document, Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley declared "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." Speaking for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Coiro likewise linked church support for Proposition 22 to Roman Catholic fundamentals. "In terms of identifying some essential components of marriage, it mirrors what the Catholic church believes and teaches," Coiro observed. "There's really no way ... that the Catholic church could not endorse Proposition 22 because it would be contradicting our own teaching if we were to come out against it." In a Dec. 20, 1999 statement, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, said the California Catholic Conference backed Proposition
22 "to assure God's plan for marriage and family life described so fully in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. "The church," he added, "has found no legitimate justification to redefine and extend the marriage contract to include same sex unions." But the religious community is not all of one mind on the issue and opponents of the ballot initiative also look to their faith for their reasoning. "There can be no such thing as rights for gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender people," said civil rights veteran the Rev. James Lawson, "if there are not rights for every child, every boy, every girl." Lawson, a United Methodist, speaking in Irvine, Calif., on Jan. 31 at a rally opposing the initiative, located the current struggle in the inclusive "beloved community" championed by slain leader Martin Luther King. Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Calif., near Los Angeles, says he opposes what he sees as a static approach to the biblical text among some of the measure's supporters. "There's also a biblical mandate to stone to death a rebellious child. There's a biblical mandate that allows slavery. ... There's a biblical mandate that forbids the taking of interest, which is the basis of most business in the United States and around the world," Kipnes said. "To look at the Bible and not to recognize that our interpretations of the Bible have ... evolved is not being true to the intent and spirit of the Bible," he said.
Some religious leaders opposed to the initiative question the motives behind Proposition 22. Scott Sinclair of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints said he found the measure a "sort of a mean-spirited attempt to make sure that no benefits come to homosexual unions." Sinclair is president of the Greater Los Angeles Stake of the RLDS, which has not taken an official stance on the proposition. He described the Reorganized church as "very different" from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often known as the Mormons, which he said shares only 14 years of 19th century history with its counterpart.

The Rev. Marcia Engelblom, canon of discipleship at the Episcopal Trinity Cathedral Church in Sacramento, labeled the measure "small-minded and fear-based" and Bishop Jerry Lamb of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, said in a statement he fears the initiative would become "a 'Wedge Issue' that will bring about more discord and animosity in our local communities and our state."

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