SAN DIEGO- From the dusty Mexican border to the redwoods of the north, from broiling eastern deserts to the cool Pacific coast, on June 25, the prayers of more than a thousand pastors covered California like a quilt. The locus: Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego County. There, nearly 300 people, most of them pastors, gathered to pray, repent, and strategize for November, when Californians will vote on a constitutional amendment affirming the historical definition of marriage.
While Skyline organized the event, satellite technology provided live video feeds to 1,300 more people-again, mostly pastors-gathered at 101 other churches up and down the state. Miles MacPherson, senior pastor of The Rock, a San Diego congregation of 12,000, opened the meeting with a call to repentance for Christian leaders.
"We've been given a vineyard," he said, alluding to a parable in the book of Matthew, "and we're in this position because we didn't take care of it."
MacPherson was referring not only to California pastors' past reluctance to get involved in protecting marriage, but also to apathy on marriage itself: "If we can't honor marriage in the church, if pastors can't even stay married, we've got a bigger problem."
If push-pins on a map of California showed churches represented at the meeting, the pins would cover 90 percent of the state. But it was three San Diego pastors who lit a church-driven prairie fire that would ultimately give all Californians-and not the state supreme court-the last word on gay marriage.
In 2000, 61 percent of California voters passed Prop 22, an initiative that codified the traditional definition of marriage. Gay activists and their allies sued, and in 2005, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer declared Prop 22 unconstitutional. Conservatives appealed, and by 2007, the case had wound its way to the state supreme court.
Given the high court's activist history, a coalition of conservatives immediately submitted to the secretary of state a measure that would go farther than Prop 22 and would amend the state constitution. But amendment backers held only thin hope: The initiative would need nearly 700,000 voter signatures to qualify for the November 2008 ballot, and there was almost no money for paid signature-gathering. In 2006, a volunteer signature-collection effort on a similar measure had fallen miserably short.
Meanwhile, throughout 2007, several major California cities, including Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco, aligned with gay activists, signing onto a friend-of-court brief in support of same-sex marriage.
Then came a political moment that proved pivotal for the whole state: Liberals on the San Diego city council forced its members to pick a side.
As a destination city, San Diego is known nationally for its crystalline beaches and heavenly weather. But in California, it is also known as the most conservative major city in the state. The third largest, San Diego is home to both a crackerjack GOP chapter and a large evangelical population. Those factors and others combine to make it the only major California city to consistently elect Republicans to high office.
In fact, if it weren't for a flip-flopping Republican mayor named Jerry Sanders, the fat lady might already have sung on gay marriage in the Golden State.
Nationally, gay activists and their allies like to wonder aloud why anyone in California is worried about the fat lady at all. Writing on the fallout from Massachusetts' legalization of gay marriage in 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist William Butte opined, "Fathers haven't demanded the right to marry their daughters. Polygamy is still illegal. The sky hasn't fallen."
Perhaps not the sky. But both polygamists and advocates of "man-boy" love have become more vocal in recent years, wondering why their proclivities should not also be recognized as the latest "sexual minority." And unlike Massachusetts, California does not restrict out-of-state homosexual couples from marrying in California then suing for recognition in their home states.
But Massachusetts may be changing. Following California's lead, the Massachusetts Senate on July 15 voted to repeal a 1913 law that had kept couples from obtaining marriage licenses in the state if they couldn't legally wed in their home states. The House was expected to vote on the measure by July 18. If Massachusetts does lift its out-of-state restriction, access to gay marriage across the nation will be virtually bulletproof: In June 2007, state lawmakers defeated an effort to amend the Massachusetts constitution to recognize only traditional marriage. The issue cannot be revisited until 2012.
The 14th Amendment equal-protection argument in favor of gay marriage already is trampling First Amendment rights to religious exercise and free speech.
In March 2006, for example, the 103-year-old adoption division of Boston Catholic Charities (BCC) decided to close its doors rather than comply with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' requirement that it place children with homosexual couples. Five months later, the group's San Francisco branch followed suit. Both moves were direct outgrowths of the legalization of gay marriage and domestic partnerships in Massachusetts and California.
In September 2007, a boardwalk pavilion owned by the Methodist Ocean Grove [New Jersey] Camp Meeting Association lost its state tax-exempt status after the association refused to allow two lesbian couples to hold civil union ceremonies there.
In April 2008, Christian photographers Jon and Elaine Huguenin were fined $6,000 by a New Mexico state "human rights" commission for politely declining on religious grounds to photograph a homosexual "commitment ceremony."
Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, Texas, said religious rights of conscience-and not relational equality-are precisely the target in California. "Gays and lesbians there can already be domestic partners, and have all the legal rights of marriage. The Supreme Court's ruling in favor of gay marriage is about something else," he said. "It is a direct attempt to establish same-sex couples as morally equivalent to a married man and woman."
Legal scholars on both sides of the debate agree that if Massachusetts begins exporting gay marriage, and/or California's gay-marriage law is allowed to stand, it will likely trigger nationwide court clashes that will profoundly alter law and public policy in the areas of employment, education, family law, and even the boundaries of the First Amendment.
None of those things were on Chris Clark's mind when he sat down in his San Diego office in late August. Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church, was simply sifting routine email when a single message snagged his attention. It was from Ann Subia, a friend who had over the years developed a knack for keeping fellow Christians informed on policy issues: Under the radar, the email said, the San Diego city council was about to vote on whether to join other cities in support of gay marriage.
"I looked at this and my first thought was, 'I'm pastoring a church! I'm remodeling a bathroom at home! I don't have time for this!'" said Clark, 48, a father of four who pastors a congregation of about 100.
Still, convinced that God would have him "stand up in the face of this atrocity," Clark went to the city council meeting and spoke in support of traditional marriage. In the end, the council narrowly voted no on the resolution.
But the end wasn't the end, it turned out. City councilmember Toni Atkins, a lesbian, used a procedural two-step to wrangle another vote. Two weeks later, the resolution passed.
"But I didn't feel too bad," said Clark, who also attended the second council meeting. "I had heard that Mayor Jerry Sanders had vowed to veto the resolution if it came to his desk."
Indeed, he had-and publicly. But on Sept. 19, Sanders held a press conference during which he tearfully revealed that his daughter is a lesbian. Sanders told reporters he could not look his daughter or his gay friends "in the face and tell them that their relationships . . . were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife."
Translation: No veto.
San Diego's Christian community exploded. "That really woke some folks up," said Clark, who was a member of a conservative coalition that met monthly to discuss pressing policy issues, including a constitutional amendment defining marriage along traditional lines. "That's when I knew we had one shot: 2008," Clark said. "We all realized that we had to move on this rapidly, and get people on board quickly."
To Clark, no one in San Diego was better suited for that job than Jim Garlow. As senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Garlow had proved himself a consummate team-builder. In 2003, Garlow rallied area churches to organize a Billy Graham crusade in only four months. In 2003 and 2007, when wildfires ripped through San Diego, Garlow reactivated the network of churches to provide aid for fire victims.
Garlow had known about the monthly policy meetings but had never attended. But when Clark and Ann Subia invited him in October 2007, "I went because of what Jerry Sanders did," Garlow said.
At the meeting, Ron Prentice, California Family Council CEO and chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, laid out the stakes: not only the historic and biblical definition of marriage but also the very right of pastors to teach what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Jim Garlow listened for 90 minutes without saying a word. At 9 p.m., the meeting adjourned. But Garlow gathered six people around a corner table and said, "We have to mobilize pastors across the state, and I'm not leaving here until we have a plan."
That plan, which involved activating the San Diego church network and building on it statewide, kicked off with a November 2007 meeting of about 200 pastors and Christian leaders at Skyline Wesleyan. Speaker after speaker reiterated what churches stood to lose, the centrality of Scripture to the issue, and the need for an amendment petition drive that would move quickly.
Clark spoke. Garlow spoke. Charles LiMandri of the conservative Thomas More Law Center spoke.
Miles MacPherson listened.
"When I heard what was happening and what was at stake, I wanted to fight," said MacPherson, a former defensive back for the NFL's San Diego Chargers. "I did not want to look back on this and have to look God in the eye and have Him say, 'Why didn't you do something? I gave you a big mouth-why didn't you use it?'"
After the meeting, MacPherson emerged as a third prime mover who, with Clark and Garlow, would muscle an unprecedented church-powered, volunteer petition drive north through California. "I'm the clarion-call guy," said Garlow. "Chris [Clark] is the strategist and Miles is the guy who gets everybody fired up."
The trio set up meetings of area pastors in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, Chino, and elsewhere, where they repeated the message of the November Skyline meeting. While turnout was low at some churches, others, including Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, caught fire.
Jack Hibbs, the church's senior pastor, had for years been protesting gay activists' attacks on Prop 22, and his congregation had long been active on local policy issues. "When we heard what was going on, it was a natural fit," he said.
Hibbs, whose church serves 7,000 adults, began rallying pastors in Chino, Orange County, and San Bernardino. Meanwhile, his own congregation took on the petition drive with gusto, ultimately becoming a validation center for the state registrar's office.
Between late January and April 1, similar drives took place across the state, with more than 300 churches serving as petition distribution and drop-off centers. The goal, Garlow liked to say, was to "make getting petitions as easy and accessible as getting a coffee at Starbucks." The grassroots groundswell spurred a flood of donations small and large for paid signature-gathering, including nearly $1 million from Catholic groups and $1.1 million from evangelicals.
Ultimately, the drive netted 1.12 million signatures, an unprecedented 400,000 of which were collected by volunteers.
On June 2, the California secretary of state announced that Proposition 8, the proposed constitutional amendment affirming traditional marriage, had qualified for the ballot. "It is amazing," Hibbs said, "to realize that now, statewide, there are pastors gathering, and that there will be hundreds more gathering through just a couple of guys in San Diego taking a stand."
Voters in four states will go to the polls Nov. 4 and weigh in on marriage-related ballot measures. As in California, residents in Florida and Arizona will vote on whether to join 27 other states in approving state constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. This is the second time Arizona voters will consider a same-sex marriage ban. In 2006, voters narrowly rejected a similar measure by 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent. While a 1996 Arizona law already prohibits same-sex marriages, proponents say the amendment is necessary to prevent judges from overturning it.
Backers of California's proposed constitutional amendment, Prop 8, note that voters in 2000 passed Prop 22, a statutory measure recognizing traditional marriage, by landslide margins. But since then, the gay and lesbian caucus of the California legislature-the only recognized homosexual statehouse caucus in the country-has worked tirelessly to mandate positive portrayals of homosexuals by teachers in public schools. That means eight years' worth of young, state-indoctrinated voters who didn't mark ballots in 2000 will do so in November.
Prop 8 polling data varies: A May L.A. Times/KTLA poll of 834 Californians, including 705 registered voters, showed 54 percent supporting the measure, with 35 percent opposed. A May Field poll asked the question differently and tallied different results: In a random sample of 1,052 registered voters, 51 percent approved of the idea of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, while 42 percent were opposed.
In Arkansas, voters in November will decide whether to prohibit unmarried couples from adopting or providing foster care. The Unmarried Couple Adoption Ban originally targeted same-sex couples. But after failing to gain lawmakers' support, the measure's authors broadened it to include all cohabiting couples. The initiative follows a 2006 Arizona Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a state policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving as foster parents.
Only three states-Florida, Mississippi, and Utah-explicitly prohibit same-sex couples from adopting. "We oppose adoption by homosexuals and feel that even the strongest laws, such as you have in Florida, where all homosexuals are barred from adopting, are justified because of the pathologies of homosexual behavior itself," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "In states where there is not the political will to pass a law against gay adoptions, we feel there should be a strong preference given to placing children with a married husband and wife, because that's the best family structure for children to grow up with."
-with reporting by Kristin Chapman