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Wednesday, April 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane bishop urges ‘no’ on R-74

Spokane’s Catholic bishop is urging members of his diocese to vote against the same-sex marriage law that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In a letter to parishioners available at weekend services, the Rev. Blase Cupich contends that if Referendum 74 passes, it will redefine marriage and create “a major shift in an institution that serves as the foundation stone of society.” He called same-sex marriage a passionate issue and called for respectful debate that would “generate light rather than heat.”

Zach Silk, campaign manager for the pro-referendum group Washington United for Marriage, said Cupich’s letter comes as no surprise because the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has a long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage. Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain urged Catholics in that archdiocese to sign the petitions to put Referendum 74 on the ballot, Silk noted.

But lay Catholics don’t necessarily agree with their clergy on the issue, he said. A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates 53 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, up from 40 percent in 2001; support increased for most other denominations, also.

Some of the state’s more prominent lay Catholics, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, support same-sex marriage, Silk added, and a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality is campaigning for the ballot measure.

Early this year, the Legislature passed and Gregoire signed a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington but wouldn’t require churches that oppose the practice to perform the ceremonies or let their facilities be used. But that law was quickly put on hold when opponents filed for a referendum, and they gathered enough signatures to put it on the general election ballot. If a majority of Washington voters vote yes on the referendum, the law will take effect; if a majority vote no, it will be canceled.

In his letter, Cupich acknowledged that both sides of the issue have deeply held and passionately argued positions. Because of violence and verbal attacks against gays and lesbians, supporters of the ballot measure often talk about the need to “rebalance the scales of justice,” he wrote. But the state laws on domestic partnerships already give same legal rights to same-sex couples as married heterosexual couples, so the referendum isn’t about equality.

“Rather, it is about making same-sex unions identical to traditional marriage,” he wrote.

Cupich said he hoped debate over the ballot measure could be calm, civil and respectful, adding that the church would not tolerate people using the campaign to “incite hostility toward homosexual persons.”

Silk said United for Marriage agrees the debate should be civil and respectful: “That’s never been a problem on our side.”

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