Sign Here State's marriage amendment drive heads into final month; Evangelicals urged to step up signature collection

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POINT LOMA, Calif. — A constitutional amendment petition that designates marriage as between one man and one woman has garnered thousands of California signatures statewide, aided by a new network of Southland pastors.

Several dozen pastors turned out Feb. 6 and 7 for a series of four meetings supporting traditional marriage and opposing threats to the institution by the courts and the state Legislature.

Pastors of churches in Chino, Yorba Linda, Burbank and Gardena offered their facilities for the meetings, which were led by a contingent of pastors and lawyers from the San Diego area.

The group included Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church, Miles McPherson of the Rock Church and Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church. They were joined by attorneys Dean Broyles and James Griffiths of the Western Center for Law and Policy in Escondido and Chuck LiMandri of the Rancho Santa Fe-based Thomas More Law Center.

At the meetings, the San Diego team explained the history of domestic partnerships in California, the legislative push for same-sex marriage and the legal rights of pastors to participate in the issue-oriented debate. At the center of their presentation was the ongoing effort to get a constitutional marriage amendment on the November ballot.

Supporters of the California Marriage Protection Act have until the end of April to submit nearly 700,000 valid signatures to the Secretary of State's office. To account for duplication and errors, Protect Marriage, the sponsoring coalition, has a target goal of collecting at least 1.2 million signatures by April 1. Of those needed, supporters hope to gather 500,000 from volunteers. The rest, thanks to $1.5 million in seed money, would be collected by professional signature gathers.

Ron Prentice, the primary spokesman for Protect Marriage, said official numbers on the amount of petitions collected will not be released until the deadline.

Traditional marriage advocates are earnestly pursuing the measure while keeping an eye on the state Supreme Court. California's high court has scheduled a March 4 hearing to consider the constitutionality of Proposition 22, a statute defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. The statute, approved in 2000 by more than 61 percent of the voters, has been tied up in the courts ever since. The justices would have 90 days from that hearing to render a decision.


Constitutional protection
Evangelical pastors, partly bolstered by concerns of wider repercussions, such as being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or losing the right to scripturally defend traditional marriage from the pulpit, have rallied behind the petition drive.

McPherson, founder of the Rock megachurch and the spiritual leader of the Miles Ahead Crusades, revival-type meetings that target young people, passionately discussed the implementation of pro-homosexual materials in the public schools in an attempt he likened to "indoctrination."

McPherson is so committed to the cause that his church has held weekly petition drives after each of its services, a practice that began in January and will continue until the petition drive deadline. McPherson is also using his pulpit to encourage members to take petitions to their friends and loved ones. On the weekend before Valentine's Day, for instance, McPherson used the Sunday services to promote the biblical view on marriage, while underscoring his concerns about the societal danger of same-sex marriage.

"If we can't collect 1 million signatures, then shame on us," Miles said during one of the meetings. "We don't understand how grave a situation we are in."

"If we lose this battle we don't deserve to be doing what we are doing," McPherson said. "We are the hope for the world."

McPherson, in visiting the Old Testament account of Sodom and Gomorrah, stressed that the Lord will not idly sit by and let his commandments be mocked.

"I think we have more to fear than the law changing," he said.


God's design for marriage
McPherson's approach is being mirrored by dozens of other pastors who have signed on to the God's Design for Marriage project, a grassroots pastoral movement supporting the constitutional marriage amendment. The project involves pastoral commitment to the cause by publicly supporting the amendment, preaching on the merits of traditional, biblical marriage, hosting petition drives, registering voters and encouraging voter turnout.

As part of its plan, God's Design for Marriage has developed a regional distribution system to get as many petitions on the streets as possible.

"It should be as easy as getting a Starbucks," said Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Baptist Church and logistical coordinator of the petition drive effort.

In Southern California, at least 175 churches and Christian businesses have agreed to serve as distribution centers for the petitions, including several dozen who signed up at the meetings.

"If we believe in the Bible," Prentice said, "if we believe it's the revered Word of God, and if you want to share this with the people, we need to win this issue or we need to look for another job."

Once the signatures are gathered at the local churches, they will be taken to designated regional centers, where they will be processed and forwarded on to Protect Marriage officials.


Prayer and fasting
Another significant element to the project is corporate prayer and fasting. That element will emerge this summer when Southern Californians will be asked to participate in The Call San Diego, featuring Lou Engle. Similar events around the country have drawn thousands of people, many of them young adults. This one is timed in advance of the fall election season when traditional marriage supporters are expecting the amendment to appear on the November ballot.

Each meeting concluded with a word of encouragement from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who flew out from his Washington, D.C. headquarters to support the marriage amendment drive.

"Some of you are thinking, well, marriage, I think I can be involved with that, but, you know, I don't want to go too far because I'm a pastor. I don't need to be involved in public policy," Perkins told the ministers.

In defending the practice, Perkins turned to the story of Nehemiah, extolling the king's cupbearer, a trusted servant, who was greeted with news from his brother that the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed and its gates torched. While he wept, prayed and fasted, Nehemiah also took steps to rectify the situation.

"His heart was broken," Perkins said. "I think today, to some degree, you must feel like Nehemiah with the news you've heard."

Perkins then urged them to action.

"We are here today because the public policy debate is taking place over the institution of marriage; but, at its heart, marriage is in the state it's in because the church neglected to promote God's institution of marriage, and if we are going to see America bounce back it's going to require America's spiritual leaders, those of you sitting in this room."