In a statement that underscores a split in the local religious community, a coalition of ministers and rabbis on Monday declared its opposition to Proposition 22, saying the anti-gay-marriage initiative is mean-spirited, discriminatory and could undercut the rights of homosexuals.
The proposition on the March 7 ballot “could result in the kind of legal limitation that we would never accept in heterosexual marriages,” the clerics said in an open letter. "[Proposition 22] would become the precedent to withhold the kind of societal protections that are needed by all caring, committed couples.”
Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, the statement’s author, said the letter represents the views of six Christian ministers, two rabbis and a college religion professor.
But he said the local divisions exposed in the campaign to allow legal marriage only between men and women are a reflection of a debate raging in churches throughout California.
Indeed, Proposition 22 is strongly backed by the state’s Roman Catholic bishops, independent evangelical and Pentecostal churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.
Several Jewish and mainstream Protestant denominations--including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church--oppose the measure.
In Ventura County, the Proposition 22 campaign is visible on front lawns and street corners where supporters have planted hundreds of bright blue signs proclaiming: “Protect Marriage, Yes on Prop. 22.” Many of those signs have been distributed by local churches to their members.
“I would say that most of the religious community in Ventura County is supportive of Prop. 22,” said the Rev. Joe Woodruff, pastor of the 4,000-member Sonrise Christian Fellowship in Simi Valley, a conservative, evangelical church.
In his city alone, dozens of ministers back the proposition, Woodruff said.
“Jesus made it clear that marriage was between man and woman,” he said. “And that’s really the bottom line for us.”
California does not allow same-sex marriages.
And Proposition 22, officially known as the Protection of Marriage Act, would bar California from recognizing same-sex marriages that may be allowed elsewhere. No other state allows such marriages, but proponents argue that Vermont is close to such approval and this measure is a necessary preemptive strike.
Opponents say the initiative--versions of which have passed in 30 states--is divisive and designed to fuel gay prejudice and reverse legislative gains by homosexuals. They compare this campaign with those of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, except that gays and lesbians, not blacks, are the object of discrimination.
“It’s clearly targeted against gay and lesbian people,” said the Rev. Jarvis Streeter, a Cal Lutheran University religion professor who endorsed Greenbaum’s letter. “It would have negative effects in terms of civil liberties and harassment. And it’s part of a general movement by the religious right to undo the separation of church and state.”
Others who signed the Greenbaum letter were the Rev. Lynne Austin, the Revs. Stephen and Janet Hanstead Meadors, the Rev. Betty Stapleford, the Rev. James A. Oines, Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Cal Lutheran religion professor Pam Brubaker.
Streeter said the passage of the initiative could lead to the denial of benefits that gays now often receive--insurance coverage from partners’ policies and hospital visitations when partners are critically ill.
Woodruff said he is concerned about the potential economic costs to taxpayers if government agencies begin to extend insurance benefits to gay partners. He calls that the hidden issue in Proposition 22.
But he said that his position has nothing to do with gay bias.
“Pastors who support Prop. 22 are immediately written off as intolerant and bigoted, and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The truth is we care deeply about people. We have a significant ministry to homosexual people, trying to help them come to an understanding why they have homosexual tendencies.”
As for concerns about religious encroachment on civil liberties, Woodruff said, he generally supports that separation.
“Separate, but not divorced,” he said. “Therefore when there’s any possibility that the state would redefine biblical teaching, we should stand in opposition to it. We don’t care about ideology, but we do care about what Jesus said.”
In his letter, however, Greenbaum cites the Bible to show that a relationship between two men--Saul and Jonathan--was described in terms of love and the “knitting” of their souls.
“There is no sin indicated here,” Greenbaum said. “There is no shame. It is a simple presentation of two men who loved each other deeply and profoundly. There is even mention made of a covenant made between the two, what today would be considered a wedding ceremony.”
Woodruff said this biblical tale represents the strongest of friendships that man needs and desires. “There is no indication in the text of any homosexual relationship. And the covenant they made is not equated elsewhere in Scripture with the marriage covenant.”
Recognizing the importance of the debate surrounding the proposition, Cal Lutheran co-hosted a forum on Proposition 22 on Sunday evening that drew about 175 people, said Joseph Everson, chairman of the Department of Religion.
“We felt it was very important, in preparing to vote, to come together and have a civil discourse,” he said.