A battle over the legal definition of marriage will be waged at the polls in Texas on Tuesday, when the public votes on whether or not change their states constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Supporters say such a change is necessary to protect traditional marriage and to solidify laws already on the books banning same-sex marriage added insurance against activist judges in the state who would rule to overturn them. Opponents say it would also outlaw anything similar to civil unions, thus discriminating against homosexual couples by denying them decision making abilities for health, inheritance and property matters.
Across Texas, church leaders are making a final push, calling on the faithful to register to vote for the Nov. 8 statewide election.
Some pastors and clergy have been framing the vote as a moral question, asking Christians to look first to the Bible and vote their convictions. At churches, rallies in public spaces, and smaller gatherings, pastors have been saying that it is Christian responsibility to defend the biblical definition of marriage.
The House has passed it. The Senate has passed it. The governor has signed it. And the people have to ratify it! intoned Pastor Gordon Banks of Covenant Church near Dallas during a recent Wednesday service, according to the Dallas Morning News. Father, in the name of Jesus, we will not be silent. We will be heard, and let your voice be heard through your people as we go to the polls!
Supporters say that judges have overturned marriage laws in states such as California and Massachusetts and want to keep that from happening in Texas. Currently there are 18 states across the country that have amended their constitutions as Texas voters may do on Tuesday.
Those seeking a nationwide, federal constitutional marriage amendment note that they need three-fourths of the states, 38 total, to make such a change. Efforts by President Bush to enact a federal marriage amendment have been unsuccessful through the nations legislature.
So far, a group of hundreds of pastors called the Texas Restoration Project has taken part in the campaign, with the goal of registering 300,000 churchgoers for Tuesday's vote. The Rev. Laurence White, who leads the project, has encouraged the faithful to "vote as Christians," not based on party affiliation, economic status or racial background. His opponents have said that the project, which has received the support of Gov. Richard Perry, is a political movement. However White has said that he has not endorsed any position.
"We have him here because it helps what we are trying to do," said White, senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, according to the Dallas Morning News. "I'm sure his people are not blind to the potential political advantages of his part in being here, but that's different than our motives. We have an entirely separate agenda on our own."
White said that he hopes the project can have an impact in Texas long after the election.
Accusations of hate-mongering have also entered into the debate. On Thursday in Austin, 30 church leaders from Central Texas, primarily from churches with African American congregants not only urged people to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote but also distanced themselves from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, who have received widespread attention for also supporting the amendment.
Michael Lewis, the president of the Austin Area Pastors Council, said they had nothing to do with the group.
As Christians we have to distance ourselves, particularly on racial issues. Were separate from them, he said, according to the American-Statesman newspaper based in Austin.
There was concern about being associated with such rogue groups that are also supporting Proposition 2, said Senior Pastor Steve Washburn at First Baptist Church in Pflugerville just north of Austin, according to the Statesman.
But their language is laced with hate, and we want all who are listening to know we are here out of love, he said.
In east Texas, a former homosexual who became an evangelist that reaches out to the gay and lesbian community wanted to make clear that supporting the biblical definition of marriage was not a political message.
"What they (opponents) try to do every single time is take any moral issue and turn it into a political one because you'll shut up," said Stephen Bennett, 28, from Connecticut.
"God's word is very clear on this issue," added Bennett, who is now married and a father with two children, according to the Longview News-Journal. "Marriage is, was and always will be between only one man and one woman, the way he designed it. Man didn't design it. God did."
Bennett, who works with a local ministry called Christians for Unity and a national organization called Vision America told an audience of 50 during a trip in east Texas that "I just want people to realize homosexuality is no greater sin or no worse sin than any other, according to the Word of God.