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Prayer breakfast rallies religious support for gay marriage

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PHOENIX – To the Rev. Sarah Stadler-Ammon, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, all love should be celebrated because “love is from God.”

That’s what drew her to a prayer breakfast Thursday at which religious leaders shared their support for marriage equality.

“Marriage matters because love is not something to hide,” she said.

Stadler-Ammon was one of a few dozen clergy from around the Valley who gathered at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral to voice their support for same-sex marriage in Arizona. At the request of Why Marriage Matters, a public education campaign founded by civil rights organizations including the ACLU Foundation of Arizona, the religious leaders also prayed for a positive outcome in same-sex marriage cases from Idaho, Nevada and Hawaii heard Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because Arizona is in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction, supporters say the outcome in those cases could have a big impact on the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Debra Peevey, faith director for Why Marriage Matters, said it’s important for religious leaders who support marriage equality to get more vocal.

“The conservative Christian voice is not the only voice,” Peevey said.

Peevey and her colleagues also prayed for Fred McQuire, a Green Valley man who filed an emergency motion to be listed as a spouse on his late husband’s death certificate. McQuire wed George Martinez in California in July after 45 years together. Martinez died a month later of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Without spousal recognition, McQuire isn’t eligible to receive Social Security and veteran benefits as a widower under Arizona law. In 2008, voters approved a ballot measure amending the state Constitution to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.”

A hearing for McQuire was scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. If McQuire wins, it would be the first time Arizona recognizes a same-sex relationship as marriage.

“We gathered in the vortex of those two events,” Peevey said of the McQuire and 9th Circuit cases.

Pointing to a recent Why Marriage Matters endorsement signed by more than 70 clergy from around Arizona, Peevey said more people of faith are supporting a wider definition of marriage, not just the traditional one man-one woman variety.

Jeremy Zegas, project director for Why Marriage Matters, said it’s important to rally a diverse, or even surprising, base of support.

“There’s a perception in the public that to be Christian means to oppose LGBT issues,” Zegas said. “If we can feature voices from that same community, it kind of blunts their attack.”

Also speaking to the breakfast crowd Thursday, the Rev. David Felten, senior minister at the Fountains United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, referenced a 2001 letter to the editor in the Arizona Republic entitled “No Longer Silent.” The letter was signed by a coalition of clergy members calling for an end to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

Felten said the letter was signed more than a dozen years ago but the state of gay rights remains much the same in Arizona.

“The debate is not over,” Felten said. “We need to get back in the game.”