BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (BP)–A clear and present danger looms in California to the traditional definition of marriage, and the president of the California Southern Baptist Convention is urging Baptists to take a stand.
On March 7, Californians will determine the state’s definition of marriage by a vote on a 14-word Proposition 22 that declares, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
The state’s political pundits said the potential impact is enormous considering California’s large homosexual population in the San Francisco Bay area and in Los Angeles.
However, sponsors of the bipartisan initiative are counting on a mobilization of Southern Baptists to push the proposition to victory and Larry Dotson, president of the California Southern Baptist Convention, said he believes that may happen.
Dotson, pastor of Panama Baptist Church, told Baptist Press, “I believe we are going to see Southern Baptists here mobilize for the effort. This initiative is something that we are recognizing as a real threat.”
Dotson has written a letter that will be sent to every Southern Baptist church in the state advising them about Proposition 22. “I think it’s one of the scariest things to come along in quite a while for the family,” Dotson said.
The decision to become active on the proposition came last November during the state convention’s annual meeting. Norma May, a trustee with the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made a motion to send the letter to the churches reminding them of the importance of the issue.
Art Croney, a lobbyist for the California-based Committee on Moral Concerns, said Southern Baptists will play a crucial role in the success of Proposition 22. “Through our research, we determined that Southern Baptists are the number one demographic group most likely to vote for the initiative,” Croney said. “Even more than other evangelical Christian groups, Republicans, or other denominations.”
However, Croney conceded that California Baptists characteristically don’t involve themselves in state politics. “I think it’s part of a national trend where people are turned off on politics,” Croney said.
“Usually, that’s true,” Dotson said referring to the CSBC’s involvement in political matters. “However, this is a very real threat. I am an apolitical preacher, but there are one or two issues that come along where I speak to the congregation. This is one of those issues.”
The concern for both Dotson and others is how seriously CSBC congregations will treat the proposition. “California churches have been bombarded with so many weird ideas and issues that many haven’t realized this one is a real threat,” Dotson said.
Proposition 22 was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Pete Knight. Knight’s son is homosexual who branded the proposition “a blind, uncaring, uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to a subject about which he knows nothing and wants to know nothing, but which serves his political career.”
Croney said battle lines for the initiative have been drawn and both sides will begin their campaigning in the coming days. The first political salvo was fired by the California Attorney General’s office when the name of the proposition was changed from the “Defense of Marriage Act Initiative” to the “Limit on Marriage Initiative.”
“Just the nuances of how the government plays with the wording is troubling,” Dotson noted.
Opponents of Proposition 22 have reportedly raised nearly $10 million, compared to $5 million raised by supporters.
Still, Croney said he is encouraged by statewide support for the measure. More than 750,000 Golden State voters signed petitions to have the issue placed on the March 7 ballot. “The numbers appear to be running in our favor,” Croney said. “It’s a pretty simple proposition. There are only 14 words in it. If the average citizen can’t understand this, then we are in trouble.”
In December, the cast of NBC’s “Will and Grace,” which prominently features two homosexual characters, filmed an anti-Proposition 22 television commercial, accusing the proposition of harboring the rhetoric of hate and intolerance.
The California proposition is not unique. Key pro-marriage measures won voter approval in Alaska and Hawaii in 1998, and signatures are being gathered in Colorado and Nevada. So far, no state has adopted a constitutional amendment legalizing homosexual marriages. However, legislators in Vermont are in the process of accommodating homosexuals, prompted by a Dec. 20 state supreme court ruling in favor of three same-sex couples.