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Seattle Catholics Divided On Repealing Gay Marriage


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The battle over legalizing gay marriage arrived in Washington state earlier this year, when its legislature did just that - which quickly led to a movement to ban same-sex marriage with the deadline today, to get a ban on this fall's ballot.

The Catholic Church is leading that effort, and it's trying to involve all of its congregations in the campaign. Liz Jones, of member station KUOW in Seattle, reports.

LIZ JONES, BYLINE: The Sunday morning scene outside many Catholic churches in Washington state is political.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is Referendum 74. This is the - the initiative' below it, in white.

JONES: St. Mark Catholic Church is in Shoreline, a suburb near Seattle. After Mass, some parishioners have set up a small tent. The priest gave them the OK to collect signatures for the referendum.

Bruce Carr has helped collect hundreds of signatures here at St. Mark's.

BRUCE CARR: I haven't actually really ever felt the need to become politically active until the state, or the federal government, has started to push more and more into my faith. And if they want to do that, then we'll push back.

JONES: Carr says he's here to defend the Catholic tradition of marriage, as between one man and one woman. The state legislature approved same-sex marriage in February. But those marriages haven't begun while this referendum is pending. All three Catholic bishops in the state urged their parishes to host a signature drive, to put the measure on the ballot. Archdiocese of Seattle spokesman Greg Magnoni says the vast majority did.

GREG MAGNONI: Our voice is a credible and valid voice in the public square regarding an issue of so much importance to our culture and our society, and to the children of our culture and society.

THE REV. JOHN WHITNEY: It's a denial of civil rights.

JONES: That's Father John Whitney, the priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Seattle. He's one of a dozen or so priests who've openly rejected the petitions at Sunday morning worship.

WHITNEY: So I think civil marriage should be defended as something possible for all people. And I think the referendum is wrongheaded, in that sense.

JONES: About 6,000 people attend St. Joseph's, where the priest's stand in favor of same-sex marriage has received overwhelming support. But Whitney says he did get a few complaints from people outside his parish.

WHITNEY: What's been going on in the church recently has at least opened the eyes, and the hearts, of many Catholics - sometimes, painfully.

JONES: Whitney points out some American Catholics are increasingly at odds with the Vatican leadership over things like the church's handling of nuns, clergy sex abuse and other social issues. Father Jim Northrop is pastor at St. Brendan Catholic Church in Bothell. He spent a couple weeks on the fence about the petitions. Ultimately, he allowed them because he thinks the issue should go to a public vote.

THE REV. JIM NORTHROP: I was nervous. I was. I mean, I prayed long and hard about it. I didn't want it to come off as, you know, being discriminatory.

JONES: Do you feel like your parish could've almost gone either way on it?

NORTHROP: Yeah, I kind of - I expected a more negative reaction, actually.

JONES: Northrop only heard a few complaints. That's out of 2,000 or so families who go there. Catholic leaders have increasingly campaigned against same-sex marriage in other states. In Minnesota, where it's also on the ballot this fall, bishops there have directed parishes to form committees to advocate the church's position.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let me just give you one. Don't worry about it.

JONES: Back at the Sunday morning petition drive at St. Mark's, Clare Martin looks on with disappointment.

CLARE MARTIN: I don't like that they have their defending marriage thing out there. You're not defending marriage; you're breaking it up.

JONES: Martin is 16 years old. She's typical of many young people, who tend to support marriage equality.

MARTIN: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And I don't think any of the people signing the petitions would want to be denied the right to marry.

JONES: Martin says her family talked about switching parishes over this issue. And she even considered backing out of her confirmation, to make a statement. But then she thought...

MARTIN: Maybe the people themselves feel differently than the administration.

JONES: And now, as an officially confirmed Catholic, she plans to stand her ground in the pews.

For NPR News, I'm Liz Jones in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Year started with KUOW: 2006