Catholic Church Initiates Drive to Overturn Wash. Gay Marriage Law

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is urging area Catholics to help collect signatures to place a referendum seeking repeal of Washington state's newly enacted gay marriage law on the ballot in November.

Archbishop Sartain has written to area parishes to support Referendum 74, which would put the gay marriage law on the ballot if at least 120,000 signatures are collected by June 6, according to ABC News.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat and a Catholic, signed the marriage equality legislation into law on Feb. 13, making Washington the seventh state to grant gay couples the right to get married.

"The word 'marriage' isn't simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships," Sartain said in his letter to the churches. "Instead, 'marriage' reflects a deep reality – the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union that is only possible between a man and a woman. There is nothing else like it, and it can't be defined or made into something that it isn't."

Archdiocese's communications director Greg Magnoni said he was "confident" about the church's ability to get the signatures to place the law on the ballot. "We have 170 parishes and over 140 pastors and the vast majority of them are supporting the bishop in his strong desire to put Referendum 74 on the ballot so that voters can decide the issue of marriage in Washington state," he was quoted as saying.

The same-sex marriage bill was sponsored by Democrat Sen. Ed Murray from Seattle, a Catholic and a gay man. He said the church's initiative was "fairly reprehensible." "To use church resources, in advancing a measure that promotes discrimination, is incredibly disappointing," he was quoted as saying. "As a gay person, and a Catholic, I can understand their refusal to perform marriages. Using the church in promoting a referendum is very disappointing."

In his letter, the archbishop explained that treating different things differently was not unjust discrimination. "Marriage can only be between a man and a woman because of its unique ends, purpose and place in society." He added that the state's domestic partnership law already grants rights and privileges of married couples to gay couples.

Magnoni defended the petition drive, pointing out that it concerned an issue and not a candidate. "It is not a candidate campaign so we are allowed to participate in issue campaigns, especially when they have a strong moral dimension like this one does."

While the majority of the parishes are supporting Sartain's initiative, St. James Cathedral and St. Joseph Parish are among a few that have refused to participate.

Sartain had earlier testified against the gay marriage bill in Olympia. "The natural structure of human sexuality orders the transmission of human life through man and woman," he said. "Because only the union of a man and woman can generate new life, no other human relationship is its equivalent. Were the definition of marriage to change, there would be no special laws to support and recognize the irreplaceable contribution that these married couples make to society and to the common good by bringing to life the next generation."

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