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