3 Catholic churches refuse anti- same-sex marriage petition drive

SEATTLE -- Three Catholic churches and counting are refusing to be part of the petition drive to overturn the state's new marriage equality law.

St. Joseph's parish is one of at least three local Catholic churches deciding they don't want the fight over gay marriage to have a place there during Sunday services, in spite of a strong message from the Seattle Archbishop.

Earlier this year, Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain testified against the gay marriage bill in Olympia.

"I urge you to uphold the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman," he said then.

And when the bill passed, the Archdiocese put its weight behind Referendum 74 to overturn the gay marriage law.

But now it's stepping into politics with a letter to area parishes authorizing them to get behind the referendum.

"The Archbishop made it very clear he supports placing Referendum 74 on the ballot," said Archdiocese Spokesman Greg Magnoni.

The Archdiocese says the majority of churches in Western Washington will start collecting signatures this Sunday.

But parishioner Barbara Guzzo, who organized Catholics for Marriage Equality in Washington, thinks the move risks driving people away from the Catholic Church.

"I think this is just another way that we say to people that you really aren't welcome," she said. "Some people are going to feel nervous about even going to church: Are there going to be petitions? Do I want to sign? Do I not want to sign?"

But the Archdiocese says this was a request to parishes, not a directive from the Archbishop.

"There's no question that people are divided on this issue and each pastor is being given the authority to decide at the local level how best to handle this issue," Magnoni said.

Guzzo applauds her parish leaders at St. Mary's, at St. Joseph's and even at St. James Cathedral downtown who have all decided not to allow the petition drives.

"I agree with them that having petition gatherers at church is very divisive," Guzzo said.

The Archdiocese adds that it's OK legally for the church to collect petition signatures for Referendum 74 because it's about an issue, not a candidate or a political party.

The referendum campaign has until June 6 to gather the 120,000 valid signatures necessary to place it on the fall ballot.