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Catholics should reject anti-gay ballot measure


When Californians go the polls on March 7, they’ll get to decide “Yes” or “No” on Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that reads: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

A December Field Poll of 475 likely Californian voters showed support for Proposition 22 holding steady at 51 percent, with 40 percent opposed and 9 percent undecided. That poll showed support slipping -- down from 57 percent in an earlier August poll.

Smarting from a gay civil rights victory in Vermont, same-sex marriage antagonists would like nothing better than to derail recent gains made by the gay community. Those gains include state and local human rights ordinances, lesbian and gay parenting and adoption rights, private and public sector domestic partnership recognition and health care benefits, safe-school initiatives, hate crimes legislation and increased HIV funding.

Recently, California has been a trailblazer. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, for instance, recently signed into law three significant pieces of gay civil rights legislation. One law makes public schools safer for gay students. Another establishes a statewide domestic partnership registration and provides same-sex couples with hospital visitation rights and health insurance benefits. A third law enhances protection against discrimination based on “sexual orientation” in housing and employment.

But these kinds of civil rights protections and limited health benefits are too much for crusaders in the culture war against gays. They’d like to trigger a backlash.

That’s why Republican state Sen. William J. “Pete” Knight of Palmdale, Calif., sponsors Proposition 22, or the “Knight Initiative,” along with a formidable group of advocates. Their campaign treasury, the Protection of Marriage Committee, has built up a substantial war chest totaling more than $3 million.

The list of organization’s and individuals supporting Proposition 22 merits naming: Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition; James Dobson’s Focus on the Family; Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition; The Family Research Council and its California arm, the Capitol Resource Institute; and Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson, Jr., a founder of the right-wing Chalcedon Institute -- which advocates the death penalty for homosexuality -- and the Rutherford Institute. One is hard-pressed to find a more eminent rogues’ gallery of mean-spirited anti-gay activists.

While these allies were expected to support Proposition 22, the Catholic church is capturing headlines and causing a stir with its substantial and unprecedented financial contributions.

According to local media, eight of California’s 12 Roman Catholic dioceses have contributed already more than $310,000 to the political initiative. The most populous diocese, Los Angeles, contributed $145,000. When the San Francisco archdiocese gave $31,724, that move was too much for some. Fr. Zachary Shore, pastor of the predominantly gay Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, wrote a letter to Archbishop William J. Levada.

“I wrote to the archbishop saying I was disappointed with the involvement of the California bishops in regard to this political amendment,” Shore told the San Francisco Examiner. “I told him I did not think it was right for the church money to be used.”

Shore is not alone. Mike Marshall, campaign manager for the No on Knight Committee, called the church’s contributions stunning, hurtful and disappointing. Quoted in the Examiner, Marshall, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, said, “The vast majority of Catholics I know support the church because of its commitment to social justice, not to be a part of the bishops’ jihad against gays and lesbians.”

Catholic social justice used to mean funding social services and pastoral care for the poor, widows, orphans, social outcasts and the marginalized. Now in California, with these political contributions, the church not only colludes with, but also finances social injustice and fear-based intolerance, which has the effect of perpetuating the culture war against gay Americans.

Yet, Catholic voters, who make up 25 percent of California’s population (32 million), are already sending their church some messages. Faithful Catholics -- from the disappointed to the outraged -- are writing letters and withholding money from the collection plate. Still others are leaving the church.

But fair-minded and charitable California Catholics can do more; in fact, they have a moral duty to do so. On March 7, by voting no on the “Knight Initiative,” lay Catholics have the power to send their bishops a clear message: They will no longer tolerate or finance this less than charitable -- downright unjust -- attack on gay and lesbian Californians, their families and friends.

Chuck Colbert, a graduate student at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, located in Cambridge, Mass., lived in California from 1982 to ’85. He serves on the board of the Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2000