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In the thick of Prop. 8 fight

Abel Ferreira and his wife, Robbie, never considered themselves political activists.

But when Proposition 8 landed on November’s ballot, the Spring Valley couple did everything they could to ensure that the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage got passed. They made phone calls. They attended prayer rallies. They fasted for 40 days.

For the Ferreiras, as for so many other people motivated to action by Proposition 8, the measure wasn’t just a matter of politics. It was about family, faith and the future of the country.

“I saw it as a crossroads in our country,” said Abel, 55. “I feel like for the sake of our country and our family I had to stand up and be heard.”

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The family was relieved when the measure passed on Nov. 4. But since then, gay activists have fiercely protested the outcome, and the California Supreme Court has said it will consider legal challenges to Proposition 8.

The Ferreiras know their struggle isn’t over.

“It definitely let us know that we’re in a battle,” Abel said.

“When you’re in the heat of the moment, there’s no standing on the fence. You’re committed. And we’re committed to this fight.”

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The Ferreiras like life in their gated community in the eastern suburbs of San Diego. Their house, nestled at the end of a cul-de-sac, is comfortable, with plenty of room for them and their three grown children, who still live at home.

But the Ferreiras are afraid of what is happening to the world beyond the gates.

“I’m just seeing our morals and everything just deteriorating before us,” Robbie, 49, said one recent evening.

“The first time they wanted to take prayer out of schools, we as believers should have stood up,” said Abel, who was recently laid off from his job as a salesman of manufactured homes. “Every time you give them a little bit, they want more.”

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The Ferreiras’ fight for Proposition 8 began less than two miles away, at Skyline Church. The family is among several thousand people who worship at the bluff-top church.

Pastor Jim Garlow, one of the state’s most vocal proponents of the measure, was crucial in collecting the more than 600,000 signatures required to get the proposition on the ballot.

After the California Supreme Court ruled in May that a 2000 ballot measure banning gay marriage was illegal, clearing the way for same-sex couples to marry in the state, Garlow was one of several prominent evangelical Christians who worked with leaders in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Proposition 8 campaign.

One Sunday about a year ago, Garlow told his congregation what he thought the consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage would be.

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Pastors around the state would be required to marry gays, he said. Businesses would be forced to recognize gay marriage. Schools would begin teaching children that gay and lesbian lifestyles are the norm.

“The thing that affected me the most was knowing that my grandkids are going to be taught this ungodly and sinful act as if it’s OK,” Robbie said. “I thought from that point on, ‘No. I will fight for them. I don’t have them yet, but I’m going to fight for them.’ ”

Robbie, who said she has always loathed conflict, dived into the political fray with her family.

She and her husband called voters to urge them to support Proposition 8. They put up signs in their frontyard. Robbie slapped a Proposition 8 sticker on her desk at the bank where she works as a loan processor, and two on her Mercedes.

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She talked her 87-year-old mother, who had never before voted, into casting a ballot in support of the measure. And she and her husband took part in a church-sponsored fast.

For 40 days, the couple gave up coffee and didn’t eat for 12 hours a day. And Robbie gave up “Days of Our Lives,” the soap opera she had been watching since high school.

The fast culminated at a huge rally Nov. 1 at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. The Ferreiras were ushers at the event, known as “The Call,” where a pastor named Lou Engle orchestrated 12 hours of prayer for the passage of Proposition 8.

“We were praying for revival in this country, that this quest to darkness would stop,” Abel remembers.

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Engle and Garlow, like many other evangelical pastors, preach that homosexuality is a sin.

“The Bible is very, very clear . . . that that kind of perversion will not get people into heaven,” Abel said. “They’re fallen people, broken people, hurting people.”

Gay marriage, he said, is a threat to heterosexual marriage.

“We’re not trying to take anything from them; we just want to protect marriage as God designed it,” Abel said.

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“It started in the garden of Eden with a man and a woman being brought together by God,” he said.

A few months ago, the Ferreiras’ 18-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, began posting her opinions about gay marriage and her support of Proposition 8 on her MySpace profile.

She was met with a flood of criticism from friends and strangers, she said.

Someone posted a video on YouTube mocking her religious beliefs, and an acquaintance who is gay said he could no longer be friends with her.

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“A lot of my friends are mad at me, but I honestly don’t care,” she said. “I’m standing up for what is right.”

Brooklyn and her family believe that gay activists have unfairly painted Proposition 8 supporters as “hate-mongers and bigots.”

Robbie points out that Skyline Church offers counseling for people who are “struggling with same-sex attraction,” and its pastor has told his congregation to save gay people by giving them love.

“We hate the sin,” Abel often declares, “not the sinner.”

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Abel said he knows what it is to sin. A former drug user, he found Jesus while serving time in prison.

After he was released, he toured the state, telling his conversion story at evangelical gatherings. He met Robbie at a revival in Barstow.

They were married, had three children and then divorced. Ten years ago, they remarried. In the interim, Robbie had married and divorced another man.

The Ferreiras insist their divorces do not make them hypocrites in the fight for Proposition 8 and the preservation of the “sacredness” of marriage. They say it just proves that they are flawed people like everyone else.

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“Divorce is ugly. God hates divorce,” Abel said. “We’re all broken people.”

If nothing else, the Ferreiras say, the battle for Proposition 8 has reinvigorated their family and their faith.

In April, after hearing Engle preach at Skyline, Robbie formed a Bible study group. Every Sunday evening, about a dozen teenagers and people in their 20s meet in the Ferreiras’ living room to discuss faith.

With court decisions still to come and the debate over gay marriage very much alive, the Ferreiras plan to keep the study group going. They see it as an investment in the future of the movement.

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And as the battle wears on, Robbie said, these young people will be the ones who will “carry the Gospel.”

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com


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