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R-74 brings spiritual opinions to forefront
by MATTHEW NASH
One of the most controversial issues on the ballot was already a hot topic in town this past summer.
The Rev. Dave Wiitala of Sequim Bible Church said he submitted about 2,000 local signatures for Preserve Marriage Washington to help place Referendum 74 on the ballot this November. Their intent was to put gay marriage to voters so it wouldn’t be allowed in the state.
“We want people to have the chance to vote on it,” Wiitala said. “It’s not about rights because they have civil rights.”
He referenced the Everything but Marriage bill from 2009 that provided domestic partnerships the same rights as heterosexual couples except the right to marry.
Preserve Marriage Washington obtained the necessary 120,577 voter signatures to place the issue on the ballot, challenging Gov. Christine Gregoire’s signature on the Legislature’s Marriage Equality Act.
Sequim Bible Church elders voted to oppose R-74 and place signs in front of the building.
Cliff Brehan, chairman of the elder board, said most of the congregation supports their decision and he hasn’t heard anyone speak against it.
“This is not about being down on anyone,” Brehan said. “The definition of marriage is between a man and woman. We feel the definition of marriage doesn’t need to be changed. It’s been the same throughout history across the world.”
Much of the effort on opposing R-74 locally, Wiitala said, has come from outside of his church, including a rally in Port Angeles and handing out yard signs across the county.
Wiitala said the church has stayed within its nonprofit boundaries by not supporting a political party or candidate and by sponsoring two ads opposing R-74.
“We stick to moral issues,” he said. “To me, abortion and marriage between a man a woman is a moral issue.”
Other side of the pulpit
Some churches are openly in favor of R-74, such as Trinity United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Bill Green said his church sees it as a civil rights issue.
The United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest voted in June in support of R-74 and Resident Bishop Grant Hagiya has appeared in television ads in favor of it.
“The reason we’re in support of it is not to be in favor of the (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transexual) lifestyle, but supporting it as a civil rights issue,” Green said.
“All people need the same legal rights. Throughout time, groups have been refused the rights to marry.”
Green said the denomination speaks for the church even though many locals have opinions beyond that.
“That’s the way we can support it even though we can’t technically support the whole GLBT lifestyle,” Green said.
Trinity United Methodist’s congregation hasn’t voted to place signs out front, fearing vandalism, Green said.
“A former church I was in put up a banner on the second story in favor (of a bill like this) and it was pulled down,” Green said.
“We’re on the edge of town next to the park, so we think twice about becoming a deliberate target.”
If voters did approve R-74, clergy would not be required to perform or recognize a marriage ceremony for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual. Churches also would not be required to provide accommodations and are immune from civil claims and cause of actions for refusing to perform or recognize any marriage.
The Rev. Lonnie Jacobson, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, said he placed a sign opposing R-74 on the property because like Wiitala he feels marriage is defined as between a man and a woman.
His concern is that if the measure is passed, businesses like bed and breakfasts who have refused services to homosexual couples and a church refusing to marry a homosexual couple could find themselves under fire.
“It won’t be long before we may lose religious freedoms,” Jacobson said.
When asked if R-74 has any impact on heterosexual couples, Jacobson said it doesn’t, but it’s still a mistake.
“It’s going to influence the whole structure of our society,” he said.
“It’s important for kids to have a father and mother in the home giving them guidance.”
Wiitala concurred about the referendum’s impact on society.
“Each child should be raised by his or her biological parents,” he said. “Sometimes heroic measures are being made but we don’t regulate love. We regulate what’s best for the children.”
Some churches haven’t taken a stance yet on R-74.
The Rev. Robert Rhoads with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said he customarily stays out of politics but he encourages people to think carefully and vote their conscience.
As a denomination, the church is waiting to make a decision until after the vote.
“We’ll adapt when something happens,” Rhoads said.
“What we do is a blessing of relationships. The state is the one who does the marrying. We do the blessing. We focus on blessing lifelong, committed relationships and marriages.”
If passed, the R-74 would take effect Dec. 6.