SAN FRANCISCO – As California voters prepare to decide Tuesday whether to eliminate the marriage rights same-sex couples won five months ago, gays and their allies have been encouraged to tell co-workers and neighbors why legalizing the unions matters to them.
Same-sex couples who have married since June knocked on doors in neighborhoods across the state on Sunday to share stories with the voters they hoped to persuade to defeat Proposition 8.
In recent weeks, other gay opponents of the ban, including a Roman Catholic priest, a former Republican mayor and a small-town newspaper editor, came out of the closet to show how the issue cuts across religious and social lines.
Proposition 8 has turned into this year's most expensive election question aside from the presidential race. Religious and civil rights groups have poured money and effort into the drive, making it one of the nation's most closely watched races.
During his 23 years as a priest in the San Joaquin Valley, the Rev. Geoffrey Farrow offered solace to a mother who did not know how to relate to her lesbian daughter and to an 11-year-old boy who thought he might be gay.
Yet it was not until some parishioners confided they were confused about how to vote on Proposition 8 that Farrow, 50, decided he had an obligation to minister to a bigger audience — even if it meant publicly disagreeing with his bishop and other church leaders.
"By asking all of the pastors of the Diocese of Fresno to promote Catholics to vote yes on Proposition 8, the bishop has placed me in a moral predicament," Farrow began a homily he gave Sunday, Oct. 5. "They are making a statement which has a direct, and damaging, effect on some of the people who may be sitting in the pews next to you today."
He asked his parishioners to consider that their votes "can cause other human beings untold happiness or sorrow for a lifetime." Then he concluded by observing that he was prepared for any consequences of his words.
Farrow had revealed in response to a reporter's question just before the Mass that he was gay, but he did not disclose his sexual orientation to his parish.
Within days of his homily, Farrow was relieved as the St. Paul Newman Center's pastor and suspended without pay for contradicting church teachings and bringing scandal to his parish. He has retained a lawyer for a disciplinary hearing; the diocese has not commented on the case.
Former Folsom Mayor Glenn Fait has found a colorful way of describing his allegiance to the Grand Old Party.
"I like to say I'm a Lincoln Republican when it comes to civil rights, a Teddy Roosevelt Republican when it comes to the environment and a Reagan Republican when it comes to the economy," said Fait, a former city councilman and mayor of the Sacramento suburb made famous by the Johnny Cash song about the prison there.
His political experience and affiliation, as well as his background as a lawyer, made him a good No on 8 ambassador, Fait knew. But he had another card to play, and he laid it on the table in a quarter-page advertisement in his hometown newspaper Oct. 22.
"As a gay man, I have a personal interest in Proposition 8. My civil rights are at stake," wrote Fait, 65. "That is one reason I ask the people of Folsom to vote no."
Scott Shackford has spent the last six years in Barstow, in the high Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The editor-in-chief of the Desert Dispatch has lived as openly gay for most of his adult life.
"Small, modestly conservative towns like Barstow know what it's like to feel powerless in the face of the majority," he wrote in an opinion piece published Oct. 23 in which he urged his readers to vote no on Proposition 8. "I come to you now from a position of powerlessness."
The column was the third Shackford, 37, had penned on a gay rights issue in the past four years.
While writing about Proposition 8, Shackford said he had to persuade the community that while he respected the fear associated with same-sex marriage, giving him a new right did not take threaten anyone else's freedom.
"As a gay person, you have to be able to live in the same world as these people, and they have to be able to live in the same world as you," he said.