Church leaders work for and against Question 1

Posted Oct. 09, 2009, at 9:04 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Even though most Mainers do not regularly attend church, clergy and people of faith around the state are working o-n both sides of Question 1 to influence voters.

Ministers and lay leaders from denominations with diverse interpretations of Scripture are networking in houses of worship either to repeal or keep the law that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry was formed last fall to support the passage of LD 1020. The group now is networking with clergy throughout the state to defeat Question 1.

A group or ministers who support traditional marriage -— many of whom had hoped the Legislature would take up a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman — began meeting about the same time to oppose the bill. It continues meeting in churches large and small around the state in an effort to get Question 1 approved by voters.

Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot will ask Maine voters whether they want to reject the state’s same-sex marriage law. Gov. John Baldacci signed the bill into law in May, but it has not taken effect as scheduled because opponents were successful in gathering enough signatures to force the people’s veto referendum.

Both campaigns regularly communicate with the religious groups on their sides of the issue but stressed that clergy groups are separate and independent organizations from Stand for Marriage Maine, which supports Question 1, and Maine Marriage Equality, which opposes it.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has been the most outspoken and involved denomination in the Yes on 1 campaign. Bishop Richard J. Malone testified against LD 1020 and has urged his flock to support Question 1.

A second collection taken in parishes last month to support Stand for Marriage Maine raised about $41,000, according to a financial report filed with the state’s campaign watchdog agency.

The diocese also granted Marc Mutty, its director of public policy, a leave of absence to work full time on the campaign.

The Rev. Bob Emrich, a Protestant and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Plymouth, said earlier this week that he is traveling the state meeting primarily with Evangelical ministers and lay leaders to discuss Question 1. Emrich, who received a small stipend from the campaign but is not on staff, estimated that he has met with 500 to 600 pastors and their flocks over the past few months.

“Mostly people are asking what they can do to help and what’s going on with the campaign,” Emrich said. “A big concern with pastors is how can we win. They also want to know how to respond when they hear people calling [those who support traditional marriage] liars, haters and bigots. It’s human nature to want to respond to that, so they’re asking to be engaged in the discussion without making it personal.”

No one in the Coalition for Marriage Equality has been doing that kind of traveling, according to the Rev. Marvin Ellison, a professor at Bangor Theological Seminary and a co-convener of the coalition. Members are keeping in touch by e-mail and phone.

Coalition members last week held simultaneous press conferences in Bangor and Portland and on Sunday, Oct. 18, will hold rallies voicing opposition to Question 1 in those cities.

“It’s really an informal network,” the Rev. Mark Doty, pastor of Hammond Street Congregational Church United Church of Christ, said earlier this week. “We represent a variety of faith traditions and speak out so the [secular] public will know that there is more than one religious perspective on same-sex marriage.”

For a 2008 Pew Forum report on how different faith groups view same-sex marriage, visit http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=291.

A list of how 47 Christian denominations view homosexuality is available at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_chur2.htm.

A similar outline of non-Judeo-Christian faiths is posted at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_chur3.htm.

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