Religious leaders draw battle lines on R-74

SPOKANE,, Wash. - Separated by a multi-lane strip of asphalt in downtown Spokane, two groups of religious and political leaders took opposing stands Tuesday on whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in Washington State.

One of the most talked-about issues on the November ballot in Washington is Referendum 74, which if passed would allow same-sex couples to marry. On a single block of downtown Spokane, on two sides of the same street, people of faith lined the streets and rallied for what they said was right.

Among the participants in a rally against R-74 was former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who was last in the Inland Northwest campaigning for the GOP nomination for president last winter. On Tuesday he was speaking at an anti-R-74 event hosted by the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

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Santorum has said previously he bases his beliefs on the Bible.

Meanwhile outside on the lawn of the convention center, local ministers preached their faith shows that they're in support of equality for all.

"There's lots of ministers that believe their faith drives them to create a society that enables fairness and equality to be available to all people, that's what faith has been about," Reverend Todd Eklof of the Unitarian Universalist Church said.

Pastor Happy Watkins is no stranger to the struggle for equality for all; the man who speaks at every Martin Luther King Jr. Day march spoke to R-74 supporters Tuesday about why he's supporting the referendum.

"I'm thinking 'equality,' it was us 100 years ago, blacks, fighting for equality, and now we're at another stage in our life to help the least of these, and that's why I'm here," Watkins said.

KXLY tried to gain access to the event to hear what Santorum had to say about R-74, but a Family Policy Institute of Washington representative barred entrance to the event, saying it was closed and no members of the media were allowed inside. As Santorum was seen outside leaving the event later in the day his representatives declined comment on his behalf.

However, there were some people who attended the event who said their views matched those of the onetime presidential hopeful.

"Primarily I believe the Bible, and the Bible talks about what marriage is and we want to protect that, between one man and one woman for life," Dean McCarty, who's against R-74, said.

During his run for the White House, Santorum's meteoric rise, coupled with primary and caucus wins in 11 states, was due in no small part to his support base made up of primarily religious conservatives who found appeal in Santorum's pro-marriage, pro-life stance.

Republican State Representative Matt Shea of Spokane Valley said he agrees with Santorum's views on gay marriage, adding that if R-74 passes, businesses in the wedding industry will be forced to participate in gay weddings because they cannot refuse service.

"While it has some protections for clergy, it doesn't really have protections at all for small business owners and individuals," Shea explained.

Santorum is crossing the state to participate in another rally held by FPIW Wednesday in Bellevue.

Meanwhile commercials for both sides of the referendum begin airing this coming Monday.