A Catholic, a Muslim, and a Mormon Walk into a Marriage-Equality Campaign...
Referendum 74 Is Drawing Support from Corners You Might Not Expect
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Scott Holley, a Mormon who works in finance and lives in Mount Vernon, says he has had three deep spiritual experiences in his life. The first was a startling vision of universal love during his missionary work in Chile. The second was his marriage in a Mormon temple. The third was marching in this year's gay pride parade. He began the march with around 30 other Mormons—one of their signs read "Sorry we're late."
Holley gets a little choked up when talking about it: "To the people who booed us, I say: I get it. Our mere presence cannot undo the hurt that has been done to you." But more profound was the reaction of people who supported the marching Mormons. "We had people coming out of the crowd hugging us," he said. "Saying, 'I'm gay, I'm Mormon, and you're the first people who have accepted me for both in my life.' When you connect with people on that level, soul to soul, you cannot help but feel the presence of God, however you define that."
As public support for marriage equality grows in Washington State and across the country, it has drawn advocates, like Holley, who might surprise some voters. In fact, the coalition working to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington by approving Referendum 74 this fall is so diverse, it includes Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Republicans, and even florists from Spokane Valley—whose representative, Matt Shea, argued earlier this year in Olympia that marriage equality would "institutionalize an injustice" by forcing them to sell flowers for gay weddings.
"Um, no," said Misty Graham of Appleway Florist in Spokane Valley. "It doesn't matter to us." She said she supports marriage equality, like most of her coworkers.
Some people I talked with for this article still wrestle with the question of whether homosexuality is a sin, but they feel a moral obligation to support marriage equality as a social benefit, no matter what their private beliefs. Holley pointed to the millions of US children growing up in LGBT households: "Are those million-plus kids going to be better off with parents who are married with all the rights and protections—health care, education, inheritance—or without them?"
Fatima Thompson, who is on the national board for Muslims for Progressive Values and lives in the Seattle area, says her organization supports marriage equality and sees traditional Muslim marriage as a contractual agreement that "shouldn't be limited by race, gender, or religion." Muslim scholar Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University echoed her views, arguing that people of faith have a duty to support marriage equality. "Can support be a moral virtue?" he wrote in an e-mail. "Yes, based on the idea that the Qur'an makes mawadda, love, one of the highest criteria of desirable union between two people." He wrote that medieval interpretations of Islam were never meant to be immutable and it wouldn't have occurred to those scholars to think of sexual orientation as a matter of genetics. "And as an American citizen," he wrote, "I have to be aware of the fact that I have sworn allegiance to a system that is secular; that means my religious obligation, having sworn such an oath, is that I think of the greater good of the nation, and not seek to force any idea of medieval Islamic interpretations upon the people."
Conservative rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, who has been with the Temple Herzl-Ner Tamid for 11 years and is a supporter of Referendum 74, says just getting to know LGBT people has changed minds within his congregation. Three years ago, the temple hosted gay Orthodox rabbi Steven Greenberg. "He's a really accomplished Jewish scholar and a fine rabbi," Rosenbaum said. "Getting to know him and his partner had a great effect."
King County sheriff Steve Strachan—who once served as a Republican legislator in Minnesota—said he has also seen attitudes change during his career in law enforcement. He talked about going to a recent swearing-in ceremony where a new officer had his partner pin his badge to his chest. Then they kissed. "The reaction was 'That's cool,'" he said. "It was a whole lot of nothing. And I thought, 'Twenty years ago, that probably wouldn't have been the response.'" Republican Bill Finkbeiner, who is running for lieutenant governor, said it isn't easy being a Republican supporter of marriage equality—he still gets yelled at during campaign events. But, he said, "Everybody should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. This is the government—it's not your personal opinion or your comfort."
Local Catholic clergy have been noticeably absent from this conversation. (Several declined interviews for this article and declined to explain why.) Dr. Joseph Palacios, a professor at Georgetown University and a priest on inactive status, said the Vatican's recent crusade against "liberation movements"—gay liberation, women's liberation, ethnic liberation—has had a chilling effect that has trickled down from Rome to the pews. "One would think if the church leaders were so concerned about the sanctity of marriage, they'd be more focused on divorce," Palacios said. So why the Vatican's fixation on gay marriage, even though many Catholics privately support it? He says it stems from the personal obsession of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who began stoking this fire in the late 1980s. Before then, Palacios said, homosexuality was openly discussed in seminaries as another part of the discussion around celibacy. That conversation has been suppressed. "That's one of the cruelest things [Ratzinger] has done," he said. "He's disallowed gay men to know themselves clearly and talk about themselves clearly."
But as the culture changes, the Vatican may find itself left behind. Just a few weeks ago, conservative archbishop Charles Chaput gave a speech citing a Pew Research statistic that 10 percent of Americans described themselves as ex-Catholic. Ex-Catholic, Palacios said, "is the second-largest denomination in the United States," sandwiched between active Catholics and Baptists.
The tide is turning.