Several high-profile church leaders ready to rally to support gay rights

SEATTLE – Several high-profile church leaders said Monday they're poised to rally voters to uphold a measure adding sexual orientation to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.

"Discrimination against any human being on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation is a moral wrong," Rev. Jon M. Luopa, senior minister of University Unitarian Church, told a news conference at Seattle's Episcopalian Diocesan House. "It is the duty of a democratic government to protect us from such wrong. It is our duty as citizens to hold the government accountable for such protection."

Referendum 65 sponsor Tim Eyman has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to turn in the nearly 112,500 valid voter signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot. The referendum asks voters whether they want to keep the anti-discrimination law passed this year by the Legislature.

Eyman made an appointment to turn in signatures Monday at the secretary of state's office in Olympia, but instead he showed up dressed up as Darth Vader, carting boxes of petition signatures for another initiative he's sponsoring for $30 car tabs.

He refused to say how many Referendum 65 signatures his team had gathered so far, only that he was awaiting a final batch from Spokane and that he would turn them all in Tuesday afternoon.

In the past few weeks, some churches have been running a "Referendum Sunday" campaign to gather signatures for the measure, after Eyman sent out an e-mail saying he had received less than 10,000 signatures.

Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, estimated his group collected tens of thousands of Referendum 65 signatures, but said he doesn't know how much it helped Eyman's effort. "I honestly don't know how many signatures he has," Randall said. "I have asked, and he won't tell us."

Randall said his main fear is that an anti-discrimination law protecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people will lead to the legalization of gay marriage.

"Our agenda is not about what people do in their private lives, and we're not trying to take something away from anyone," Randall said. "We're trying to preserve ... the institution of marriage."

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire admonished those who have connected the two issues, suggesting it's an effort to confuse voters.

"That's misleading the public," Gregoire said. "It has nothing to do with gay marriage. It has everything to do with discrimination, and I believe that Washington state's values are fundamentally that we don't discriminate."

The new law takes effect on Wednesday, unless Eyman turns in enough valid signatures, in which case it would be frozen until the election.

Rev. John Boonstra, executive minister of the Washington Association of Churches, said he wasn't surprised Eyman had not turned in the required signatures, but wasn't ready to write him off yet.

"Well, we'll see," Boonstra said. "Our hope is that we do not have to reopen the box, that we don't have to revisit the important work that the state Legislature did in January. If that happens to be, then we'll be ready."

The Right Rev. Vincent Warner, bishop of the Episcopal Church in Western Washington, said church leaders who support gay rights need to be more vocal about their beliefs.

"I think we're too quiet about it," Warner said. "I think we really need to let people know that respecting the dignity of every human being is very, very important."