Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Churches play key role in Prop 8 campaigns


Tim Weitzel works the phones at the weekly No on 8 phone bank at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Weeks before voters decide whether to amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage, churches and other religious entities on both sides of Proposition 8 feel strongly that their beliefs are at stake, and they're playing a big role in trying to reach voters.

But money also is a big need, as evidenced by an urgent e-mail blast sent Tuesday, September 16 by No on 8 campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead, saying that Prop 8's backers had raised a total of $16 million, with $5 million of that coming in since September 1.

Bankhead made a plea for Prop 8 opponents to contribute $200,000 within the next 48 hours.

"We need your help now more than ever - because we are behind," she wrote. "The Yes on 8 campaign is out-fundraising our side at a pace of 3 to 2. We must match what is raised dollar for dollar with the right wing; if we do not, we are at serious risk of losing this November."

Bankhead wrote that Yes on 8 has used the money to buy "massive amounts of air time" to run ads as early as late September. "Soon endless ads will flood the airwaves with the goal of eliminating marriage rights for same-sex couples," she wrote.

Bankhead continued that 15 percent to 20 percent of voters remain undecided on Prop 8.

"Reaching them via TV will be vital to winning," she wrote. "Right now the opposition may out-campaign us over the airwaves. We must be competitive on TV or we risk losing undecided voters to the other side."

Julie Davis, Northern California campaign director for No on 8, told the Bay Area Reporter on August 28 that the campaign had secured media time starting two weeks before Election Day, and that they were hoping to get ads out "as soon as we possibly can."

Much of the money raised to support Prop 8 appears to have come from church members.

The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter to church leaders in California that was to be read to all congregations in late June. The letter stated, "We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman."

According to the Web site, as of September 15, 35 percent of all donors to were members of the church.

Asked how they got their numbers, someone responsible for the site, who declined to give their name, told the B.A.R. they've identified Mormon donors through personal knowledge of many of the donors' towns, through friends, through people who have e-mailed them, and through Google searches.

Many Mormons are working to defeat Prop 8. Olin Thomas, executive director of the LGBT Mormon group Affirmation, said he and others are trying to influence public opinion through their newsletter and by encouraging people to write letters to editors.

"We feel like we're the David in the battle against Goliath," Thomas said.

However, Thomas also said the group is trying not to be antagonistic, "so maybe some Mormons who are on the fence won't vote on Prop 8. ... A non-vote of someone who might otherwise support [the measure] is the most we can hope for, and we would settle for that," he said.

Laura Compton and Lisa Fahey of, both of whom are straight, said they're encouraging "grassroots and self-organization," whether it's meeting with friends or posting a "No on 8" yard sign.

"Opposing Proposition 8 in individual wards or congregations can be a lonely, disheartening task, and we're hoping that having at least an online community that is supportive is helpful," Compton and Fahey wrote in an e-mail to the B.A.R.

Pastors discuss plans

Peter Montgomery of People for the American Way, a group opposed to Prop 8, said the organization monitored an August 27 conference call involving pastors from an estimated 170-180 locations in California, as well as Arizona and Florida. Those two states are also fighting battles over same-sex marriage in November.

According to the notes from the call distributed by People for the American Way, which is opposed to Prop 8, backers of the marriage ban are soliciting 40 volunteers in each of the state's Zip codes.

The goal is to have 100,000 people volunteering on Election Day.

Pastors were asked to make their church databases accessible to managers of the "Church Call Campaign," so Prop 8 supporters can be called and identified. Non-registered supporters will be encouraged to register and vote by mail, according to the notes.

Youth are also being targeted through the Web site, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The campaign's goal is to "mobilize 300,000 young people to get eight of their friends to vote," according to the notes.

The notes also referenced Lou Engle, founder of the Call - "a divinely initiated, multiracial, multi-generational, and cross-denominational gathering to corporate prayer and fasting," according to its Web site - who said, "We're on death ground ... Literally, there is no tomorrow."

Saying, "This is a time to resist mightily the spirit of peaceful coexistence and apathetic resignation in the face of this prevailing darkness," the Call Web site is beckoning people to gather at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on November 1, three days before the election.

Neither participants in the call nor Jennifer Kerns, the spokeswoman for Prop 8, responded to requests for confirmation of the conference call.


Other church opposition

While many of Prop 8's backers support the measure because they feel same-sex marriage is against their religion, opponents of the marriage ban say discrimination violates their religious tenets.

The Reverend Amy Zucker Morgenstern, parish minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, where same-sex couples have been married for decades, said, "We feel just like the proponents; that our beliefs are on the line here and our faith tells us to stand up for what's fair."

The Reverend Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the statewide Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, which is part of the No on 8 coalition, said, "There are lots of people of faith, including many, many straight allies that really see this as a fundamental issue of fairness, and also don't want to see the GLBT community hurt by actions of other faith communities that are perhaps more prominent in the news."

Many churches are distributing No on 8 yard signs and stickers and phone banking is also popular. According to Kerry Chaplin, interfaith organizing director of California Faith for Equality, there are interfaith phone banks supported by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others spread across California.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, in Kensington, has been working to drum up opposition to Prop 8 through phone banking and other activities.

Lynn Gardner, intern minister, said three people responsible for the phone bank have come on Sunday morning to talk about what they're doing. Gardner said one of the three "identifies as a straight ally, and yet he is putting hours and hours and hours into this."

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, of the Union for Reform Judaism - one of the most liberal movements in Judaism, which has congregations spread all over the state - said more than 90 percent of reform rabbis are available to perform same-sex marriages, and she said congregants are encouraged to endorse the No on 8 campaign, phone bank, and sponsor educational programs.

Many Episcopalians could vote no on Prop 8 as well. Several Episcopal bishops of California last week released a statement that stated, lang=EN "As bishops, we are not of one mind regarding how our church's clergy should participate with the state in same-sex marriage. ... Nevertheless, we are adamant that justice demands that same-sex civil marriage continue in our state and advocate voting 'No' on Proposition Eight."

The Reverend Susan Russell, president of the LGBT Episcopalian group Integrity, said the organization is also encouraging opposition to the measure. "I'm convinced the majority of Episcopalians will vote no," Russell said.

She also said, "I think it should go without saying there are those who only see marriage as between a man and a woman, and I believe we need to respect their right to understand marriage in that way," Russell said. "At the same time, they do not have the right to inflict their understanding on the whole state of California."

For more information on the No on 8 campaign, visit

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