For Christian Groups, Prop. 8 ’More Important Than the Presidential Election’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday October 27, 2008

Adopting end-of-the-world jargon, anti-gay Christian leaders characterized the upcoming popular vote on marriage rights for a select demographic in California as a heroic last stand against marriage parity for gay and lesbian families.

As reported in The New York Times in an Oct. 26 article, conservative Christian leaders view the upcoming vote on marriage equality as more important than the question of who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, believing that if marriage equality survives the current assault in California, it will set a trend for the rest of the country and perhaps beyond.

Currently, only two others states grant marriage equality, and a handful of nations around the world have made marriage for gay and lesbian families a legal right.

The ballot initiative scheduled to go before California voters on Nov. 4 is known as Proposition 8. If approved, the measure would immediately ban all further marriages between couples of the same gender, slamming the door shut on the right to marry, which gay and lesbian families have enjoyed in that state since last May.

Proposition 8 would amend the Calif. constitution in a way that would reserve marriage as an exclusive special right for mixed-gender couples.

The article quoted Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Charles Colson, who commented in an anti-marriage equality video, "This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon."

Added Colson, "We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion."

The claim from conservative Christians that freedom to marry for gay and lesbian families means a loss of religious freedom for themselves has become a touchstone for the anti-marriage bloc.

Among the claims made by the anti-marriage side are predictions that clergy will be arrested for anti-gay sermons, churches will be shuttered if they refuse to perform marriage services for same-gender couples, and children as young as those in Kindergarten will be forced to learn about same-sex marriage.

The Calif. Supreme Court decision that found a state law barring marriage equality to be unconstitutional specifically addressed those issues, saying that religious freedoms would not be infringed upon.

As for children being forced to learn about family structures other than one man and one woman, opponents of Proposition 8 say that this is a wild distortion based on a state law requiring that students receiving comprehensive sex education also receive a class on marriage and committed relationships.

The state law stipulates only that students receive the class before they graduate high school, and also allows parents to keep their children out of all sex education classes.

In Massachusetts, where marriage equality has been state law for over four years, no such instances of arrested clergy or church closings have resulted. Over 8,000 same-sex couples have married in the state since marriage became legal for gay and lesbian families in 2004.

The article quoted Claremont Presbyterian Church's Rev. Karen Sapio, who said, "The idea that we would be forced as clergy to perform a marriage that was against our conscience, or that a church would lose its tax-exempt status, is ridiculous."

Added Rev. Sapio, "If you look dispassionately at the record, there are a lot of churches with policies that are at odds with civil law."

Said the Rev. Sapio, "I have not heard of a single Catholic church forced to marry someone who has been divorced, or a rabbi forced to perform an interfaith marriage or an evangelical church forced to marry a couple who has been living together."

The president of the anti-gay organization the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, was quoted in the article as saying that the marriage equality question is "more important than the presidential election."

Perkins explained that view, saying, "We've picked bad presidents before, and we've survived as a nation."

However, said Perkins, "we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage."

In a bid to convince the faithful of a looming apocalypse for religious expression, American Christian leaders flew in a Swedish pastor named Ake Green.

Green violated a Swedish law against hate speech with an anti-gay homily, the New York Times article reported. American conservative Christians jumped at Green's experience in his native land, claiming that American law would follow suit.

Declared Skyline Church senior pastor Rev. Jim Garlow, "[Green] is a symbol of what is ahead [unless marriage equality in California is repealed]."

Added Garlow, "When you have laws that make homosexual marriage a protected class, then the government has a compelling interest to normalize that and must declare anything in opposition to that hate speech."

Polls continue to show that voters are narrowly divided on the issue, with the most up-to-date data showing that 52 percent of voters oppose revoking the existing right of California gay and lesbian families to marry.

Only 44 percent told the pollsters, who gathered the data for the Public Policy Institute of California, that they were in favor of barring gay and lesbian families from continuing to enjoy the freedom to marry.

However, the New York Times noted, historically, the trend in states where anti-gay constitutional amendments have passed--all but once, in 28 states where such laws have gone before voters--has been that even where such measures lagged in the polls, they tended to pass by wide margins, indicating that respondents to such polls are not offering an honest opinion.

The key to victory is seen to be TV advertising, which is enormously expensive. As a result, the amounts of money pouring into Calif. from out-of-state interests has been phenomenal, with each side raising more than $25 million, making this contest the most expensive anti-gay amendment campaign in the nation's history.

Among the biggest contributors are Mormons, whose church leadership has instructed its followers to support the anti-gay measure, and Roman Catholics, whose Knights of Columbus lay organization contributed a million dollars early in the anti-marriage campaign.

Statewide, the New York Times reported, churches have taken a leading role in the anti-marriage campaign; the pro-marriage side has been led by churches, too, as well as by companies, unions, and GLBT equality organizations.

But the apocalyptic aspect of the religious campaign against gay and lesbian families has forged strong ties between different denominations, and even different faiths, the article reported, citing a coalition of Mormons, evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, and conservative Protestants.

Charismatic preacher Lou Engle, who traveled to Calif. from his Kansas and Washington-based ministries to fight against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, explained the views of the faithful, saying, "We believe there is a spiritual battle in an unseen realm, and that's why I've called for united prayer for divine intervention."

Added Engle, "It's a defining moment for the definition of marriage in American history."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.