Gay Marriage Battle Still Rages in Calif.

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FRESNO, Calif. -- Election day is over -- but the battle over gay marriage is still hot in California. On Nov. 4, voters approved the Proposition 8 marriage amendment, which defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

But now, the state supreme court is deciding whether to overturn it. In the meantime, homosexual activists are targeting Prop 8 supporters--and especially churches.

Opponents of Prop 8 hit the streets within days of the election. They protested at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County and marched through the streets of Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities. Often, they protested outside of Mormon churches.

One demonstrator told an ABC News crew, "Regardless of these churches, how much money they poured into these campaigns, it is not over. We're going to fight until the world changes."

Protests and Death Threats

The fight has been ugly. Two Mormon temples received letters containing a white powdery substance. Gay marriage supporters have vandalized churches and the property of Prop 8 supporters across the state -- even hanging a Nazi banner across the front of one Mormon chapel in El Segundo.

No on Prop 8 supporters have also used the web to post the names of Prop 8's financial supporters. The effort has led to the boycott of various businesses and cost professionals their jobs.

Incidents like these are causing churches across the state to realize that their support of traditional marriage may come at a price. That's what Pastor Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church in Fresno and Mayor Alan Autry recently found out. Their public support of Proposition 8 led to a death threat right before the election.

"I've had threats before and you don't know how serious to take them," Franklin told CBN News. "And I said 'How serious is this?' and they said, 'Well, the police chief will be calling you. And the chief called me in about two minutes after I got off that call and he said 'Yes, we're taking it very seriously, because of the nature of it. It's against you, it's against the mayor.'"

"And that put it into a whole different area, a whole different arena, having the police with you all the time, surveillance, those types of things," he continued. "It really makes you stop and think."

The death threat sobered many in Franklin's church. It also showed the extreme nature of the debate.

"I've done 32, 33 state-wide campaign initiatives in my career," said political veteran and Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Schubert. "I've never seen one like this--the passion, the energy, the focus, the intensity."

Schubert says gay marriage advocates are targeting the amendment's supporters now for a reason.

"I think they intend to so intimidate people that in the next battle there will be less support for our side," he said. "Because people will be afraid to make a donation or volunteer."

Schubert has cautioned against organizing counter demonstrations. But beyond that, it's difficult for many to know how to respond.

Marlon Smith oversees nine Sacramento-area Mormon congregations.

"We've chosen to downplay this and not make a big deal out of it," Smith said. He believes the harassment is dying down.

But nationally, other religious leaders aren't so sure.

Not Backing Down

On Dec. 5, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ran a full-page New York Times advertisement condemning the violence against Prop 8 supporters. Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, civil rights activist Dr. Alveda King and Ron Sider with Evangelicals for Social Action were some of the leaders who signed the ad.

The Catholic church has also come out strongly against the violence and harassment. Also this month, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco has called publicly for an end to hate and name-calling in the aftermath of the election.

Samuel Rodriguez with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference says the church must not back down.

"What we're not going to do is hide," he told CBN News. "What we're not going to do is acquiesce in a spirit of Elijah to a Jezebellian spirit where we hid in the cave while we are threatened."

Rodriguez says California's 1,000 Hispanic churches will continue to build a diverse coalition of churches to support traditional marriage. They reject the idea that gay rights equals civil rights.

"This is a Christian community in California that would defend gays' real civil rights," he said. "The legal real civil rights."

"Are there any lynchings in California with respect to gays and lesbians?," Rodriguez asked. "Are gays and lesbians segregated with respect to restaurants or the schools they attend? Absolutely not."

CBN News attempted to contact Equality California, a major gay rights organization for a comment. But the group would not return repeated telephone calls. However, the organization's Website makes clear future battles over gay marriage are in store.

For now, both sides must wait on the state supreme court. It has accepted a challenge which argues that Proposition 8 illegally revises the state constitution. Legal experts are unclear which way the court might go. If justices overturn Prop 8, a growing chorus of conservatives, like Fresno mayor Alan Autry, says a recall movement is likely.

"Something has to change," Autry said. "Because you had a judiciary that is out of control here in California."

Is Time Really On The Gay Rights Side?

Gay rights groups condemn such talk as intimidation and are prepared to put same-sex marriage back on the ballot if the justices uphold Prop 8.

With increasing public support for gay marriage, they believe time is on their side.

But Rodriguez says a growing Hispanic population committed to traditional marriage will challenge those plans.

Many churches like Franklin's understand that battles like this are as much spiritual as they are political. Cornerstone Church is moving forward to build relationships with the gay community in Fresno, thanks in part to an unexpected event last month.

"It was just one of those God moments that suddenly things came together and God did something," Franklin said.

It began on a Sunday morning after he greeted a group of gay rights protestors outside his church. In a spontaneous move, Franklin decided to invite the group into the morning service and asked their leaders to speak to his congregation.

A video from that morning shows Franklin onstage with the protest leaders. "I just want them to know they're not our enemies and I don't feel that from them in that," Franklin tells his congregation.

"As a person who has served on a forum with Pastor Franklin I know his conviction and I know your conviction as a church and I only ask you to respect my same conviction and ask that we work together for a better Fresno," said Robin McGehee with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

The next day, Franklin received an e-mail from the man who had threatened him.

"He said, 'I saw what you did by inviting those protestors onstage," Franklin recalled. "Maybe you're not as homophobic as I thought. You're not going to hear from me any longer. And you can tell the mayor I won't bother him either.'"

Franklin says his story has inspired a number of sister churches, eager to engage in reconciliation in their communities. It's a daunting task no doubt, with consequences that may well reach far beyond the Golden State.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News

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