SAN FRANCISCO – As California voters prepare to decide on Tuesday whether to eliminate the marriage rights same-sex couples won just five months ago, gay people and their allies have been encouraged to tell co-workers and neighbors why gay marriage 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.
During his 23 years as a priest in the San Joaquin Valley, Father Geoffrey Farrow offered spiritual 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 on 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 the personal consequences his "words of truth" would draw from the diocese.
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 an upcoming disciplinary hearing.
In the meantime, he has been traveling the state, speaking out against Proposition. 8, often appearing at campaign events with non-Catholic clergy who also oppose the measure. He also spends a lot of time answering e-mails from around the world, some critical of his stand and others grateful.
"Beyond Proposition 8, this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the church because the solution the hierarchy has come up with has been to sweep it under the carpet," Farrow said.
The diocese has not commented on the case.
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 on Oct. 22.
"As a gay man, I have a personal interest in Proposition 8. My civil rights are at stake," he wrote. "That is one reason I ask the people of Folsom to vote no."
Coming out was the way Fait, 65, decided to put a face on the same-sex marriage debate. For better or worse, he noted, most people still have a fixed idea of what gay men and lesbians look like.
"I wanted to hit the people who hadn't thought that much about it before they reached the ballot box," he said.
Five years ago, Fait revealed his sexual orientation to his two grown daughters and wife of 40 years, from whom he is now divorced. Friends and a few colleagues also knew he was gay. It didn't seem like anyone else's business.
If Proposition 8 is defeated and he meets the right man, he would like to marry again.
Since the ad appeared, Fait said he has received mostly positive responses, including from current city council members and his fellow Rotary Club members.
In Barstow, which sits in the high Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, there is not a single gay bar as far as Scott Shackford knows.
Shackford would know. He has lived as an openly gay man for most of his adult life, the last six of them in Barstow, where he is editor-in-chief of the Desert Dispatch.
"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 Prop. 8, Shackford said he had to persuade the community that 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.