Originally published on Advocate.com January 16 2004 1:00 AM ET
The Phoenix Suns basketball franchise is caught in a fight between a conservative religious group and some Phoenix-area churches over anti-gay marriage literature that accompanied invitations to "Church Night" at a March game. The Suns dropped the Center for Arizona Policy as its "Church Night" sponsor for the March 19 game after several clergy members complained about invitation packages sent by the Suns and the center.
The packets included a letter with the headline "The enemy's assault on marriage." The literature described the center's efforts to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriages. About 2,000 invitations were sent to Phoenix-area churches, and an additional 20,000 went to supporters of the Center for Arizona Policy, a group that lobbies the legislature for conservative religious causes. A number of pastors complained, and the team dropped the center as a sponsor.
Center president Len Munsil fought back, proclaiming on his Web site, "Homosexuals Hijack Church Night!" and criticizing the Suns for giving in to "the demands of gay protesters." Tom Ambrose, a team vice president, said the literature initially went unnoticed. "As soon as we had one or two complaints, we took a harder look and realized we had a huge problem," he said.
Ambrose also acknowledged that the issue is problematic for the Suns because the team has groomed a gay fan base for its WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury. "This was a business proposition meant to get our name out in front of a lot of people," Munsil said. "What gets missed is our motivation. We are preaching love, compassion, and concern for those on the wrong path, not hatred."