Religious leaders from around Davis came together Thursday at the Davis United Methodist Church to speak in opposition to Prop 8.
If approved by voters, Prop 8 would amend the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Historically a controversial issue, the bill has elicited both support and opposition from religious and secular groups.
The overwhelming message at Thursday’s gathering was one of equality, love and respect for all “our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, and members of our congregations.”
Faith leaders from the Episcopal Church of St. Martin, Congregation Bet Haverim and Davis United Methodist Church spoke at the gathering.
They spoke to what they said was the moral imperative of treating others with respect and equality. Some disclosed officiating same-sex marriages, not always with the approval of official church doctrines.
“The Episcopal Church has been discussing the issue of same-sex marriage since the 1970s,” said Reverend Austin Leininger of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin.
While the official Episcopalian position in the United States remains against same-sex marriages, it has become increasingly accepted for individual congregations to encourage same-sex couples to marry and to admit gay ministers, Leininger said.
“I see it as both a spiritual and a civil rights issue,” he said. “When a specific demographic of the population is denied rights we must come together in the name of equality.”
Davis resident and Bet Haverim congregant Linda Hirsch, who attended the multi-faith gathering in opposition to Prop 8, said that providing equal rights is above all a moral issue.
“I am proud that religious leaders are stepping up and speaking out on this issue,” she said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
In the past, the debate about same-sex marriage and the role which religion plays in the sanctity of marriage has been hotly debated.
Most recently in 2000, California voted in favor of Proposition 22, a statute that limited marriage to relationships between a man and a woman.
The California State Supreme Court ruled in May that limiting marriage to between a man and a woman was in violation of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution, and that same-sex couples have the right to marry in California.
As arguments supporting Prop 8 commonly affirm, under California law the Family Code states that “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married spouses. Supporters of Prop 8 hope that by amending the constitution, the traditional definition of marriage will be preserved and will be out of the reach of the state’s judges.
UC Davis law professor Courtney Joslin, who teaches courses on family law, sexual orientation and gender identity, said that while there are few tangible differences between the rights of registered domestic partners and married couples, there are other problems that emerge from making a distinction between the two.
“The primary differences are the intangible harms that come from relegating a class of people to a separate and distinct classification,” she said. “It sends a message that their relationships are less worthy and less committed than those of regular couples and raises the question of whether or not a group of people will be treated differently.”
A civil rights debate that defines a group of people as different calls to memory laws against interracial marriage, the most recent of which was struck down in 1967, said Bet Haverim rabbi Greg Wolfe.
“That wasn’t that long ago,” Wolfe said. “Today we are standing up again and saying, ‘That’s not right.‘ If we look at how far we have come, it seems there isn’t much of a debate about Prop 8.”
Thursday’s gathering came a few days after 16 clergy members of different denominations from congregations around Davis issued a statement published in The Davis Enterprise urging fellow citizens to vote no on Prop 8.
“As members of our state community, same-sex couples accept all of the obligations of citizens and they are entitled to all the rights that everyone else in our state enjoys,” the statement said. “And that includes the right to marry the person with whom they want to share their lives.“
Though there is a diverse group of faith organizations in Davis opposed to Prop 8, the opposition is not universal. Other groups have stated their support for defining marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.
Reverend Jonathan Zachariou, senior pastor at Davis Christian Assembly Church, makes several appearances as a proponent of Prop 8 in a DVD produced by the American Family Association called “Proposition 8 and the Case for Traditional Marriage.“
According to filings with the California Secretary of State, total contributions over the nine-month period from January to September reached over $25.5 million for Yes on 8, A Project for California Renewal, and over $15.7 million for No on 8, Equality for All. Of the approximately $25.5 million for Yes on 8, $18 million was raised by Mormon supporters from across the country as of Sept. 24, according to mormonsfor8.com.
AARON BRUNER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.