Pastors Ramp Up Marriage Fight

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A Swedish pastor who was sentenced to a month in jail for preaching that homosexuality is sinful is encouraging U.S. Christians to support ballot initiatives in California, Arizona and Florida that would prohibit gay marriage.

During a conference call last week hosted by the California-based Protect Marriage campaign, Pentecostal pastor Åke Green said American Christians have “a great opportunity” to affect the laws of the United States.

“I don’t know if you as Christians understand what a possibility you have right now,” he told San Diego pastor Jim Garlow, who is leading the campaign to pass Proposition 8, which would amend California’s constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The move is in response to California’s Supreme Court decision in May to legalize gay marriage in that state.

“Because U.S., you are many Christians,” Green said through an interpreter. “You can be united, you can be a political power. And your government or congressmen have to listen to you. … I believe a united Christianity will bring a victory.”

The Protect Marriage conference call is one of several efforts under way to drum up support for ballot measures designed to preserve traditional marriage. In Arizona, Proposition 102 supporters (yesformarriage.com), including Catholics and Mormons, are mobilizing volunteers to get out the vote in support of the marriage amendment in their state. Evangelical pastors, too, are being encouraged to marshal their congregations to support Proposition 102, which is similar to a 2006 ballot initiative that narrowly failed to pass.

In California, Proposition 8 supporters (protectmarriage.com) hope to rally 100,000 volunteers to go door-to-door, reminding residents to vote on Nov. 4 and encouraging them to support the ballot measure. Volunteers are also critical in Florida, where Amendment 2 still lacks the 60 percent vote it needs to pass.

Describing the battle for marriage as national in scope, traditional family advocates Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Harry Jackson of the High Impact Coalition spoke at rallies in Orlando, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla., aimed at generating support for the marriage amendment.

“The courts in Massachusetts in California and then just a week in a half ago in Connecticut have unleashed chaos upon their respective states and if left unchecked on the entire nation,” Perkins told a crowd of roughly 700 in Orlando last week.

Speaking to thousands of California pastors affiliated with the Protect Marriage campaign via teleconference, Green prayed that American pastors would be “bold and courageous” in opposing gay marriage. Green was found guilty of “hate speech against homosexuals” after he preached against the gay lifestyle in a July 2003 sermon. He was sentenced to a month in jail under the nation’s strict hate-crimes law. The ruling was upheld in an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court, but Green was not sentenced because the court determined that the European Convention, a treaty signed by Sweden that carries a higher legal status than the hate-crimes law, applies a broader definition of the freedom of speech and religion.

Church leaders worry that similar events could occur in the United States if gay marriage becomes law. Marriage amendment supporters point to the case of Robb and Robin Wirthlin, a Massachusetts couple who sued their public school district in 2006 after a teacher read their 7-year-old a fairy tale about two princes who marry each other. A federal appeals court ruled that the school district did not have to give parents prior notice that books featuring homosexuals would be included on the reading list. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the appeals court ruling to stand.

Religious liberty attorneys say cases in New Jersey, where a Methodist ministry is being sued for not allowing a same-sex couple to use its pavilion, and New Mexico, where a Christian photographer was fined more than $6,000 for refusing to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony, are further signs that gay rights is beginning to trump religious liberty.

Recent polls showed supporters of California’s Proposition 8, which has been endorsed by pastors ranging from Rick Warren to Church of God in Christ Bishop George McKinney, ahead in the polls. Support for Florida’s Amendment 2 (yes2marriage.org) has increased in recent polls, rising from 55 percent to 57 percent, said Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger. But that percentage is still three points shy of the votes needed to pass the measure.

“The church has to make a difference in this election,” Stemberger said during the rally in Orlando. “I’m not exaggerating here. We’re no strangers to close elections here in Florida. This is going to be a very, very close election. And if we wake up on Nov. 5, and we have lost by thousands or hundreds of votes, we’re going to be kicking ourselves.”

Garlow agreed, noting that the vote in California may also be as close as 50 percent plus one vote. “This is a very winnable war,” Garlow told pastors. “We may win it by only one vote, but it’s winnable. And so we need to make and treat every vote as if it’s the one vote that puts us over.”

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