Collection to oppose Washington's same-sex marriage law under scrutiny
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — A plan to ask parishioners in the Diocese of Yakima, Wash., to contribute funds for a campaign to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law is expected to move forward, said the executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference.
Dominican Sister Sharon Park told Catholic News Service Aug. 29 that the collection in the 43 parishes in the diocese "will comply with the law."
Questions about the collection surfaced Aug. 27, 10 days after Yakima Bishop Joseph J. Tyson sent a letter to pastors asking them to announce a special collection on either of the first two weekends in September for Preserve Marriage Washington, a statewide group working to overturn the same-sex marriage law passed in February by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Voters will be asked Nov. 6 to accept or reject the law. If Referendum 74, as it is called, is approved, the same-sex marriage law will take effect Dec. 6.
Sister Sharon said the Washington State Catholic Conference was coordinating the church's educational effort on marriage, but that each diocese was developing programs to teach parishioners about marriage and the church's opposition to the referendum.
September has been designated as Preserve Marriage Month by the three dioceses in the state. "Each bishop is inviting people to be involved," she said.
"Parishioners have been asking where they could contribute and some parishes have been asking," Sister Sharon added.
The dioceses of Spokane and Seattle have not announced plans to raise funds for Preserve Marriage Washington.
Washington campaign finance laws prohibit churches or any organization from collecting funds and then passing the money along to another organization, explained Lori Anderson, communications and training officer for the Public Disclosure Commission, the state election spending watchdog.
"You can't bundle contributions in the state of Washington," Anderson told CNS. "They (parishes) can certainly pass out envelopes and encourage contributions, but they can't pass them on (to a third party). Someone from the organization must collect the contributions. Otherwise, you would create a PAC (political action committee). You would collect the contributions and spend them the way you wanted."
Anderson said the Public Disclosure Commission considered the situation after receiving an inquiry by a reporter; she and three other commission staffers met Aug. 28 and determined the plan established by the diocese was impermissible.
"We discussed this and thought that we should be proactive and contact the church and tell them what they can do and encourage them not to collect those contributions and send them," Anderson said.
The commission planned to send a letter to Bishop Tyson Aug. 29 and mail copies to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle and Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane as well as the Washington State Catholic Conference, Anderson said.
A representative of Preserve Marriage Washington said the organization was unaware of any formal complaint.
"We are confident our fundraising activities are in full compliance with the law here," said Chris Plante, deputy campaign director.
He said representatives of the organization would be at parishes to collect contributions from individuals.
Data on the commission's website Aug. 29 showed that Preserve Marriage Washington had raised $471,102. In comparison, organizations supporting same-sex marriage had raised nearly $6.3 million, according to the data. The bulk of the amount, about $6.1 million, was contributed to Washington United for Marriage.
Plante said his organization had budgeted $4 million for its campaign and that contributions from churches, Catholic parishes included, would be a boost. He discounted the amount of money raised by supporters of Referendum 74.
"They have always outspent us in every other state that this has happened," he said. "But we're not concerned about that. If we have the money we need to get our message out, which all along has been $4 million, we're confident the voters will support us."