Christian Marriage Movement's Ground Zero

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SAN DIEGO - Many Americans think of San Diego as one of the country's most beautiful, recreational cities.  But these days, it's building a new identity. 

San Diego is quickly earning a reputation as the ground zero of the Christian marriage movement.  That's because San Diego churches started a petition drive last fall to put the marriage amendment, also known as Proposition 8, on the ballot.  And those churches are now organizing a get-out-the-vote drive for November's election.

Click the player to hear Pat Robertson's comments following CBN News Reporter Heather Sells report.

"There are many phone calls after midnight," said Skyline Church Pastor Jim Garlow. "There are conference calls after midnight.  There were emails going at 4:15 this morning.  It is ratcheted up and it is intense."

Garlow , along with Pastor Chris Clark of East Clairemont Baptist and Pastor Miles McPherson of The Rock Church, are leading the movement with ambitious plans: 5,000 energized pastors who will help get out seven million votes.

Work of Churches Seen as the Key

Political scientist Thad Kousser studies state politics at the University of California, San Diego.  He says the work of the churches is key.

"Churches will absolutely be the heart of this support campaign," Kousser told CBN News.  "They've already had a conference call with 1,000 pastors."

Miles McPherson is a former San Diego Charger turned mega-church pastor who "gets it."  His campaign challenge is reaching young voters who support gay marriage.

"Right now they're driven by the wrong info and a lot of emotion," McPherson said.  "'I don't want to be a bigot.  I don't want to discriminate.  We should be fair.'  But they don't understand the facts, the dangers of homosexuality--but also, what loving somebody means," he continued.  "You love somebody by helping them obey God."

But not all pastors are jumping on board.  Some large churches, like Saddleback in Orange County, have made no public statements on the amendment.  Pastor Clark says some pastors have told him they don't want to get "political."

"My response to that is--we're not political," Clark said.  "The institution of marriage predates any form of government that was established on earth.  So, we're not being political.  We're being biblical."

Brian Brown of ProtectMarriage.com leads fundraising in support of Proposition 8.  Prop 8 would add the following words to the state constitution.  "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." 

The amendment would override the California Supreme Court's ruling on May 15.  The ruling struck down a statute, which 61 percent of California voters approved in 2000.  It prevents Californians from recognizing same-sex marriages.  Brown is incensed that the Supreme Court overrode the will of the voters with its decision. 

But right now, fundraising is the task at hand.

Fundraising by Both Sides Continue

As of July, both sides have raised about $4 million each.  But many expect those opposing Prop 8 will raise considerably more.  Campaign contributions on both sides show national interest in the ballot initiative.  Those opposing the amendment include Denver-based gay activist Tim Gill. 

The Gill Action Fund gave $250,000 to Equality for All.  The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign gave $1 million.  On the supporting side, Colorado-based Focus on the Family gave $250,000 and the Mississippi-based American Family Association gave $500,000.

But those supporting the amendment go beyond just evangelical circles.  Brown says Catholics, Jews, Mormon and even some Muslims are getting involved.

"A lot of religions, both Christian and non-Christian, are concerned about the issue," said Allen Haynie with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Marc Stern with the American Jewish Congress recently wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, "The state supreme court…seems to believe that once outside the church or synagogue doors, equality is always more important than religious liberty."

"There is no protection for pastors right now," Clark told CBN News.  "If I were to refuse to perform a same-sex wedding I could be sued.  I could be fined.  We could lose our tax-exempt status."

Clark and others worry because the state supreme court ruling equated opposition to homosexuality with racism.  The Los Angeles Times reported on May 17 that "the majority opinion…declared that any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation will from this point on be constitutionally suspect in California the same way as laws that discriminate by race or gender, making the state's high court the first in the nation to adopt such a stringent standard."

New Jersey Christian Organization Sued for Discrimination

The fears of many California pastors have already been realized across the country in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  That's because the state's civil rights division is investigating the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Christian campground on the Jersey shore.  At issue: its refusal to host a lesbian commitment ceremony. 

Rev. Scott Hoffman, chief administrative office of Ocean Grove, says they originally hoped they could work with the couple. 

"Our assumption was when they discovered this was a worship facility they would understand," he said.  "And we could work out something where they could do it somewhere else."

But despite miles of New Jersey beachfront to choose from, that couple and then several other lesbian couples chose the campground's outdoor pavilion on the beach for their commitment ceremonies.  In the ensuing legal battle, Ocean Grove lost part of its tax-exempt status.

Brian Raum with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund represent Ocean Grove. "No religious organization should be forced to use their facilities," Raum said.  "A place of worship, for things and behaviors that are completely at odds with their core Christian beliefs."

It's hard to miss the equality and rainbow flags flying in Ocean Grove these days, amidst the rows of historic homes.  The division between the Christian community and the gay community in Ocean Grove is clear.

Vacationer Susan Anderson spends part of her summer painting on the Ocean Grove boardwalk.  "People want to have a relationship and if they want to make some kind of acknowledgement it should be allowed," she told CBN News.  "It's not really hurting anybody."

Gay Marriages Continue in The Golden State

Such sentiments will lead over 100,000 gay couples to marry in California in the next three years, according to UCLA's Williams Institute.  They'll spend close to $700 million in the process.  And, they'll make for a very close race on Prop 8 in November, if current polls and past history are any indication.

"When initiatives begin a race very, very closely divided," Kousser said.  "Those initiatives normally lose."

Kousser notes that a Los Angeles Times/KTLA poll in May showed 54 percent of registered voters support the amendment.  But a Field poll from the same month shows 51% of registered voters approve of the idea of gay marriage.

Many Christians CBN News spoke with however, are confident of victory in November.

"When you get into the voting booth, when it's just you and the Lord--I think people will vote the correct way," said Lisa Mills of Skyline Church.

In the meantime, gay marriage continues in the Golden State, complete with wedding applications for "Party A" and "Party B." And, churches continue to pray, knowing that a November defeat will create a hostile climate for any Californian who opposes gay marriage.

Originally published August 12, 2008.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

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