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Civil Rights in America
September, 2007

Eugene pastor's letter draws fire
By Jeff Wright
The Register-Guard
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2007 (reprinted here with permission, The Register-Guard, Copyright 2007)

A liberal Eugene pastor finds himself in the political cross hairs after sending a letter to 3,000 Oregon pastors last week asserting that Christian opponents of two gay rights laws are misleading the faithful.

The Rev. Dan Bryant, senior minister at First Christian Church, said in his letter that religious opponents are falsely promising donors they can get a $50 state tax credit for contributing to signature-gathering campaigns aimed at overturning the laws.

Bryant warned in his letter that those who wrongly claim a political tax credit may unknowingly be committing tax fraud.

David Crowe, executive director of Concerned Oregonians, an organization that opposes the gay rights laws, singled out Bryant in a public e-mail Tuesday as part of a "cabal" that "seeks to divide and conquer through deceit and deception" to prevent Oregonians from weighing in on the laws.

In a previous e-mail Sunday, Crowe accused Bryant of sending "a defaming and untrue letter to Oregon evangelical pastors with the intent of discouraging petition signing in their churches." He said Bryant represents a denomination and a local interfaith group - Disciples of Christ and the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, respectively - that "support the gay agenda."

The war of words may be escalating as petitioners seek to gather 55,179 valid voter signatures by Sept. 25 to challenge House Bill 2007 and Senate Bill 2, two landmark laws that grant the right to same-sex domestic partnerships and ensure protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The bills become law in January - unless opponents can gather the necessary signatures. If the petition drives are successful, the laws would await the voters' verdict in November 2008.

Bryant served on the Governor's Equality Task Force that proposed language for the two bills, which were signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in May with much fanfare.

The Legislature approved the bills two years after Oregon voters approved Measure 36, which amended the state Constitution to say that marriage is "between one man and one woman." Critics view the new laws as a legislative end-run of Measure 36.

Last week, liberal activist Ellen Lowe of Portland filed a complaint with the state Elections Division, contending that two groups, Defense of Marriage and Family Again!, and Concerned Oregonians, were wrongly telling people they are eligible for the state's political tax credit if they donated to the groups.

Under state law, the credits are allowed for political committees involved with ballot measures, candidates or political parties, but not for those involved in signature-gathering campaigns, Lowe said.

The Elections Division is reviewing Lowe's complaint but has yet to rule on her allegations, compliance specialist Jennifer Hertel said.

Bryant said he wrote his letter after reading a newspaper account of Lowe's complaint. He said he did so in part to counter letters sent by Crowe to "hundreds of Oregon pastors" imploring them to circulate the signature petitions seeking to overturn the gay rights laws.

Bryant addressed his letter to "fellow pastor," and signed it as an individual. He said he got most of the pastors' mailing addresses from Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading gay rights advocacy group.

In his letter, Bryant said the two petition signature groups "have misrepresented themselves to the public and especially to churches" by asserting that donations qualify for a tax credit. "Regardless of how one might feel on the issue of gay rights, as pastors we should all be wary of those who blatantly violate the law and disregard the rules of our democratic government," he wrote.

Bryant said Wednesday that he wrote the letter because he considers gay rights "to be the civil rights issue of our era."

He said he sent his letter not only to evangelical pastors, and that neither his denomination nor the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries has taken a formal stand on gay rights. The Rev. Sherry Lady, the interfaith ministries board president, reiterated the group's nonpolitical stance.

Bryant described as "mind-boggling" an allusion to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made by Crowe in his most recent e-mail. Crowe said Oregon "faces a less obvious September Day of Infamy, an attack from within our borders by those who seek to change Oregonians' view of marriage and morality."

Crowe, a graduate of Springfield High School and the University of Oregon, said Concerned Oregonians made the tax credit claim on one occasion and has since stopped. However, he said donors could still take the tax credit in the future - if the two laws are successfully referred to the ballot, thus allowing Concerned Oregonians to register as a political committee campaigning on behalf of a ballot measure.

Defense of Marriage and Family Again! is the committee listed with the state as formal petitioner to refer the gay rights laws to the ballot. Former state Sen. Marylin Shannon, the committee's executive director, said Wednesday that the group has never represented to donors that they were eligible for a tax credit.

However, in her complaint last week, Lowe included a copy of a page from the Defense of Marriage and Family Again! Web site indicating that a state tax credit is available. Shannon said a volunteer inadvertently included that information, which has since been removed.

Crowe said supporters of the gay rights laws are raising any legalistic objections they can think of because they fear that voters will reject the laws if given the chance to do so.

"This is a major moral issue, and the governor and his entourage are thumbing their noses to over 1 million Oregonians" who supported Measure 36, he said. "Neither the governor nor the homosexual community wants this to happen because they know the polls all show that people don't want it. It's being foisted on us against our will."

Still unanswered is whether petition supporters will be able to gather the necessary signatures in time. The pressure may have intensified last week when Know Thy Neighbor, a gay rights group based in Massachusetts, vowed to list on its Web site the names of all Oregonians who sign the petitions.

Crowe and Shannon both said the Massachusetts group's threat has infuriated and motivated more Oregonians to sign the petitions.

"We are Oregonians and we are not cowards," Shannon said. "Who do they think we are?"

Shannon and Crowe said the clock is ticking as supporters scurry to get the necessary signatures.

"I'm confident we'll get the 55,000, but we need a buffer" to make sure there are enough valid signatures, Shannon said. "To get the buffer we need a miracle - but we believe in miracles."



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Photo by Paul Carter, The Register Guard, used by permission.