Already, liberal Catholics are bristling.

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The Seattle archbishop who oversees Washington State's Catholic hierarchy, including nearly 250 churches, has ordered a petition drive beginning on April 9 in all local parishes to repeal the state's gay marriage law. In a letter to parishioners, J. Peter Sartain explains he has "approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months" and has given priests "information regarding the signature drive."

"Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," warns Sartain before encouraging Catholics to help place Referendum 74 on the fall ballot, thereby positioning conservatives to overturn the marriage-equality law passed by lawmakers in February. In explaining his position, Sartain says, "All Christians are called to chastity, and sexual intercourse is so intimate and significant that it is intended only for a man and woman in marriage."

Never mind that Catholic bishops don't have a credible track record of "chastity" or marriage themselves. Fortunately, liberal Catholics are doing more than just bristling—they're also organizing.

Barbara Guzzo, who attends St. Mary's in the Central District, is one of several progressive local Catholics offended by the campaign to polarize the church against gay rights. "Jesus was all about inclusivity and love—the stand our bishop is taking is the opposite," Guzzo says. Along with an organizing committee, Guzzo has formed a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality in Washington designed specifically to resist Sartain's campaign.

Even though Sartain was welcomed as a tolerant listener when he was appointed two years ago, his recent decree that turns parishes into venues for right-wing organizing helps redefine that reputation. Sartain also recasts the Archdiocese of Seattle, which was long considered a font of progressive thinking and social conscience, into an archdiocese in bed with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)—the virulently anti-gay national group trying to repeal marriage equality along with Preserve Marriage Washington. In his letter, Sartain repeatedly parrots NOM's leading talking point, complaining that lawmakers have "redefined marriage."

Kathy Morefield has attended St. Mary's for the past 45 years and "can't remember another time that they have done signature gathering for a referendum or an initiative," she says. "I think it is a terrible idea. I am stunned."

But despite the boiling backlash from liberal Seattle parishioners, dissent from pastors appears unlikely. "If priests spoke out, I think they would be silenced. They would lose their pulpits. That's a safe bet," says Guzzo.

Sartain's letter, accompanied by an exhaustive four-page FAQ, tries to deflect criticisms about the church's politics of discrimination. "Treating different things differently is not discrimination," Sartain asserts. He then uses the same specious, homophobic talking points you've heard before: Gay couples can't procreate (and the sacred purpose of marriage is procreation) and children without two heterosexual parents are "victims." As such, the church's beliefs must be codified in state law.

But Guzzo doesn't buy it: "The church has a right to set the rules for marriage that it wants in the church but, likewise, the legislature has a right to grant equality to all committed couples living in our state."

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Neither Sartain nor his spokesman replied to a request for comment. recommended

Update: St. James Cathedral reverend Michael Ryan has announced that he won't allow the petitions in his parish, saying circulating them would be "hurtful and divisive." He adds that other priests can also refuse.