Local faith leaders took a stand this week against religious extremists who would breach the separation between church and state, and write discrimination against gays into the Arizona Constitution.
About 30 clergymen and clergywomen gathered Tuesday in the sanctuary of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St., to urge Arizonans to vote no on Proposition 102, the “Marriage Amendment.”
“Legislation based on one group’s religious beliefs is completely contrary to all this country stands for,” said Rabbi Helen Cohn, spiritual leader of Congregation M’kor Hayim, which holds services at 1350 N. Arcadia Ave.
If Prop. 102 passes in November, it would amend the state constitution to say, “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”
This religion-based definition of marriage would exclude people of the same gender who love each other and want to make a future and possibly raise a family together from ever having their union honored by Arizona.
“Obviously, I believe that religion is an important part of life,” said the Rev. Anna Bell, pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church., 3434 E. 22nd St. “At the same time, I do not believe that any religion should be able to force its views on the American people, nor have the ability to amend our constitution.”
Arizona already has a law banning gay marriage that has been upheld by the courts. But Prop.102 supporters are seeking a constitutional amendment because they fear that a future court will overturn the law.
Chief among those backers is The Center for Arizona Policy, a “pro-family” group that twisted arms at the Legislature to make sure Prop. 102 got on the ballot this year. The center has a conservative, Christianity-based social agenda and has been very successful on the legislative front.
The Mormon church and its members are providing the vast majority of the financial support for the Prop. 102 campaign, according to a recent media report. And Arizona’s Catholic bishops – Gerald Kicanas of Tucson and Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix – issued a joint statement earlier this month urging other Catholics to support the measure because it’s in line with the teachings of the church.
Scott Morris, a member of St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, 4625 E. River Road, said he organized Tuesday’s gathering to counter the public perception that the religious community stands in “monolithic support” of 102.
Prop. 102 opponent the Rev. Frank Bergen, who has served as a priest in both the Roman Catholic Jesuit order and the Episcopal Church, said some people think everybody “should be bound by our religious concept of marriage.”
“Uh, uh; not so,” he said.
He said his objection to Prop. 102 is actually rooted in religion.
“Proposition 102 offends my sense of justice, and my sense of justice comes right out of my religious faith,” Bergen said.
Cohn of M’kor Hayim said the Jewish Scriptures – the Old Testament – teach the values of justice and fairness for every person, regardless of social standing, race or any other characteristic.
“It teaches us not to deny certain groups the rights that other groups enjoy,” she said.
The Rev. John Fife, the former minister of Southside Presbyterian Church, 317 W. 23rd St., recalled being invited to a wedding anniversary of a white man and a Native American woman more than 40 years ago. He learned that they had to go to New Mexico to wed because Arizona had a law banning interracial marriage.
After doing a little research, Fife discovered that the law had been passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature with the support of “influential religious leaders” in the state. In hindsight, Fife said, what occurred was clearly “political pandering, bigotry and discrimination.”
Following this year’s legislative session, state Sen. Tim Bee, a Tucson Republican, met with the Tucson Citizen editorial board. He had introduced the marriage amendment referendum and, as Senate president, cast the final and deciding vote to send Prop. 102 to the ballot.
But when asked by a member of the edit board why gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry, Bee couldn’t come up with a good answer. In fact, for a full 20 seconds, he was rendered speechless.
I think Bee and other lawmakers who voted for this measure will someday look back with shame on their bigoted and un-Christianlike actions. They’ll wonder why they ever thought it was a good idea to prevent people who love each other, but who happen to be gay – a characteristic that the scientific evidence now points to as being biological and unchangeable in nature – from marrying.
In November, Arizona voters can pave the path toward that spiritual epiphany by decisively voting down Prop. 102.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and email@example.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.