Leaders of what openly gay California assemblyman Mark Leno affectionately described as San Francisco's "religious left" lined up on Tuesday to declare support for a bill he authored that would allow same-sex couples to get married in California, arguing that the measure was a logical extension of the principle mandating separation of church and state. Flanking Leno in the sanctuary of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, clergy representing Baptist, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, and Unitarian congregations said the bill is consistent with Christian teachings because it promotes equality for gays and lesbians.
"I enjoy the idea that human beings have evolved to a place where we don't have to have relationships defined by what goes on 'in the barnyard,"' said the Reverend Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge United Church of Christ, poking fun at a recent statement by antigay Christian leader Jerry Falwell on why marriage should be limited to a man and a woman. "We live in a democracy, not a theocracy."
Leno's bill, which he renamed the Religious Freedom and California Civil Marriage Protection Act for the legislative session that began on Monday, would amend a section of California's family code that defines marriage as "a personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between a man and woman" to read "between two persons."
The new version of the bill, which cleared an assembly committee earlier this year but was withdrawn by Leno because he did not have enough votes to get it through the full assembly, also contains a section that specifically says clergy members are not required to participate in a marriage ceremony against their beliefs. The additional language should "help Californians understand there is a definite difference between religious marriage and civil marriage," Leno said. The Reverend Amos Brown of San Francisco's Third Baptist Church agreed. "As a Baptist, I will not be a bigot," said Brown. "I will not impose my religious convictions on anyone else, especially not law-abiding adults."
Tuesday's show of support from the "religious left" came the day after an evangelical Christian group, the Orange County-based Traditional Values Coalition, announced a campaign to strip same-sex couples of domestic-partner benefits. The coalition also wants to insert the existing definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman into the California constitution. The Reverend Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial's longtime leader, said such efforts to undermine the rights of gays and lesbians were not consistent with the nation's values. "If I went against freedom at the pulpit, I would then push out a segment of the community," he said.