The debate over gay marriage, widely considered to be a divisive
“wedge” issue in this year’s election, may be
driving a wedge even between Michigan’s Christian
churches.

While Episcopalians and many Presbyterians have come out against
Proposal 2, which would amend Michigan’s constitution to ban
gay marriage, other Protestant and especially Catholic churches
across the state have taken significant measures to support its
passage.

Michigan’s Catholic dioceses have contributed about half
of the $1 million raised by Citizens for the Protection of
Marriage, the group that led the petition effort to put Proposal 2
on the November ballot. The Archdiocese of Detroit, which covers
six southeastern Michigan counties, has been particularly active in
support of the proposal, donating $270,000 to the group.

In addition to its financial support, the Catholic Church has
encouraged individual parishes to promote the amendment during
church services. Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit and
chairman of the Michigan Catholic Conference, produced a video
earlier this month encouraging Catholics to vote for the proposal.
Maida distributed the video to all of the archdiocese’s
churches to be shown during mass.

Although pastors at many churches discuss issues such as
abortion in their sermons, it is unusual for Catholic churches to
show videos advocating a specific vote during mass. Dave Maluchnik,
a spokesman for the MCC, said the last time such a video was
distributed to Michigan churches was in 1988, when a referendum was
on the ballot to stop the state from funding abortions through
Medicare.

Father Mike Bugarin, pastor of the Catholic church St. Joan of
Arc in St. Clair Shores, said the feedback from his parish after
the video was played during mass was almost entirely positive, with
the exception of one negative phone call.

“People were happy to be educated on the issue, and that
the church is taking a stand on an issue that is very important to
us,” he said.

But not all Catholics appreciated Maida’s video, which the
archdiocese told all of its churches to show on the same Sunday two
weeks ago. At Our Lady of Refuge, a Catholic church in Orchard
Lake, Father Francis Dister spoke out against anti-gay
discrimination before showing the video.

“He went on in a really enlightened way about his nephew,
who is gay. … He said the church does not need any more
homophobia, does not need any more discrimination,” said
Elizabeth Ferszt, a Catholic from West Bloomfield who attended the
service.

Soon after the start of the video, Ferszt, who supports gay
civil unions, thanked the priest and walked out of mass.

The church’s support of Proposal 2, Maluchnik said, is
based on its commitment to preserving the institution of marriage.
He dismissed the argument, adopted by opponents of the proposed
amendment and by other church organizations including the
Presbytery of Detroit, that the proposal would take away some
health insurance and other benefits for same-sex couples employed
by the state.

“The church does not believe that this will take away
benefits from anybody,” he said. “I don’t think
the word ‘benefits’ is in the proposal.”

But many disagree with that contention, even within the
Archdiocese of Detroit. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the
archdiocese’s auxiliary bishop, said this week in an
interview with the gay-oriented magazine Between the Lines that he
is against the proposal and the church’s activities in
support of it.

“First of all, the law already says that marriage is
between a man and a woman and I don’t think we need a
constitutional amendment,” the magazine quoted Gumbleton as
saying. “Second, the text as I’ve seen it is too
open-ended, and people who are living as partners would be denied
medical benefits. … I think it’s a cruel overreaction
against homosexual people, and I think it’s
unnecessary.”

Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution to define marriage
as between “one man and one woman,” and prohibit the
state from recognizing any other arrangement “as a marriage
or similar union for any purpose.”

Dana Hoole, spokesman for Coalition for a Fair Michigan, said
there is little disagreement that the proposal would take away
benefits from some gay couples.

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