The battle over same sex marriage in our state is taking a big step from the political arena to the pulpit, as the Catholic Church has formally endorsed signature gathering at local parishes in the effort to overturn the state's recently passed marriage equality law.
In a letter to churches in the Seattle Archdiocese, which encompasses all of Western Washington, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain writes "Marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of our society."
Sartain has been an outspoken critic of the "redefinition of marriage." He testified in the state Legislature against the measure passed earlier this year and signed into law by Governor Gregoire.
The law goes into effect June 7 if opponents can't get approximately 120,000 valid signatures to put Referendum 74 on the ballot, which would allow voters to defeat the measure. Sartain calls it "such a far-reaching and radical decision that it should not be left simply to a vote of legislators and the signature of the governor."
"The key to understanding the Church's view of marriage can be found in the two fundamental ends or purposes toward which it is oriented: the good of the spouses and the procreation of children," Sartain writes.
But it's causing a big rift in many congregations. Many local Catholics are criticizing the Archbishop for taking such a strong stand against what they see as an issue of equality.
"I was disappointed. I think the Catholic Church is so good on so many issues tied to social justice," says Barbara Guzzo, co-founder of the newly formed Catholics for Marriage Equality in Washington.
"I'd rather they put their energy into economic reform and immigration reform and housing, things that I think have a much more significant impact on people's lives, much more significant than who marries who," says Guzzo.
State Representative Jamie Pederson (D-Seattle) helped lead the effort to pass the legislation approving same sex marriage. He says he's disappointed the church is taking a more active role in opposition, but not surprised.
Pederson points out many other religious groups have strongly supported same sex marriage, including his own Lutheran church.
"I think it's unfortunate that a church that has such a long history of advocacy for civil rights for all people would think that in a time like this, it's a priority to take away rights from families," Pedersen says.
But in his letter, Sartain writes, "Some have suggested that the Catholic Church's opposition to the redefinition of marriage amounts to discrimination. That is not the case. Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination."
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