April 16, 2012 -- At least two Catholic churches in the Seattle area are resisting an archdiocese effort to reverse Washington state's newly enacted marriage equality law.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain sent a letter to all area churches encouraging them to hold petition drives for Referendum 74, which would put the issue of gay marriage on the ballot in November.
Opponents of gay marriage, which the legislature approved earlier this year, must collect 120,000 signatures by June 6 to get the referendum on the ballot.
The letter states that the Catholic church teaches that people who experience same-sex attraction have the same dignity as heterosexuals, but insists that marriage can "only be between a man and a woman."
"The word 'marriage' isn't simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships. Instead, 'marriage' reflects a deep reality -- the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union that is only possible between a man and a woman. There is nothing else like it, and it can't be defined or made into something that it isn't," read the letter.
If Referendum 74 doesn't receive enough support to make it on the ballot, the marriage equality legislation signed into law on Feb. 13 by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire will go into effect as planned on June 7.
"I am confident that we will collect enough valid signatures to place it on the ballot," archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said. "We have 170 parishes and over 140 pastors and the vast majority of them are supporting the bishop in his strong desire to put Referendum 74 on the ballot so that voters can decide the issue of marriage in Washington state."
But not every area church wants to take part in the drive for signatures.
Reverend Michael Ryan of Seattle's St. James Cathedral noted on the church website that "after discussing the matter with the members of the cathedral's pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish," he wrote. "Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community. In saying this, I do realize that there are some who will be disappointed with this decision."
Ryan went on to express gratitude to Archbishop Sartain "for giving pastors discretion in this matter. He knows that we are in the best position to make this judgment."
At St. Joseph Parish, a note on the church website simply says, "Please be aware that Fr. Whitney has decided that no petitioning will be permitted anywhere on the campus of St. Joseph. Please contact Fr. Whitney with any concerns."
ABC affiliate KOMO-TV reported that Seattle's St. Mary's church will also abstain from signature drives.
In Januray, Sartain testified against the marriage equality bill in Olympia, saying that "as the foundation of the family, marriage between a man and a woman is the basic unit of society, a personal relationship with public significance."