Synagogues, churches team up to fight Knight prop.

Buford Furrow Jr., who confessed to opening fire on kids and staffers at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center last summer, allegedly told police his next stop was going to be San Francisco.

"He was going to bring a machine gun and shoot up a gay bar," San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno said.

The fight for equality and justice inextricably links Jews with gays, as well as with other minorities, Leno emphasizes.

That's why he says all Jewish Californians — not just gay and lesbian Jews — must get on the front lines to fight Proposition 22, also dubbed the Knight Initiative.

The measure, which will be on the March 7 ballot, calls for California to recognize only heterosexual marriages as legal.

"If we're going to stop hate crimes, let's first stop hate laws," said Leno, who is gay and Jewish.

To that end, Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco is hosting a "Solidarity Shabbat" on Friday, Feb. 11. Leno will address the 5:30 p.m. service, while Rabbi Sydney Mintz, one of the spiritual leaders at the Reform synagogue, will speak at a 7:30 p.m. service aimed at young adults.

The events are part of a Solidarity Sabbath Weekend, in which 50 Bay Area churches and congregations will participate.

Leno will also speak at the Dolores Street Baptist Church Sunday, Feb. 13. Evan Wolfson of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents victims of sexual orientation-based discrimination, will address an audience at Emanu-El Saturday, Feb. 12.

Progressive religious leaders, said Mintz, who is a lesbian, must stake out their turf in the battle against discrimination.

For that reason, the faith-based All Our Families Coalition, which is challenging the proposition, "has been trying valiantly to get someone from Yes on Knight to debate us, without success," she added.

Because Mormon and Catholic church leadership has provided much of the money and muscle behind the Knight Initiative, the public has assumed — erroneously — that "the faith community backs this proposition," Mintz said. "That is wrong."

Mintz has written to 97 of her Reform colleagues statewide, urging them to take a vocal position against the initiative, named for its sponsor, state Sen. Pete Knight (R-Palmdale).

Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco and Temple Isaiah of Lafayette, both Reform, have joined Emanu-El in stepping forward to denounce the initiative, as have Renewal congregations Or Shalom Jewish Community and Beyt Tikkun, both in San Francisco.

Leno introduced a resolution 18 months ago denouncing the initiative, which was first called "The Definition of Marriage Initiative" by its author. The supervisors passed it unanimously, and Leno went on to build a statewide organization to fight the proposition's passage.

"This is obviously a civil rights issue," he said. "A lot of my social action is based on Jewish tradition."

His message resonated with Jewish funding organizations. A Jewish family foundation, which asked to remain anonymous, laid down $75,000 in seed money for Leno's fledgling organization, which financed polling and focus groups.

"Based on that, we were able to start up a multimillion organization to fight the Knight Initiative," he said.

The John and Marsha Goldman Fund kicked in an additional $25,000.

Leno said he was moved by an unmistakably Jewish "clarity of heart, and a vision of what is right and what is wrong."

The proposition is unnecessary because "the state already defines [marriage] as being between a man and a woman," Leno said. "And yet, there's a very real down side to voting for it, because real people, real families, real children will feel real pain if it passes."

The outcome could effect such brass-tacks issues as hospital visitation, inheritance, and custody and adoption rights, Mintz said.

In fact, in states where similar propositions have been passed into law, political conservatives have used the law to challenge such hard-won rights.

The gap has closed, public opinion polls show: The initiative's 18-point lead has narrowed to 10.

"But proponents will outspend us 2 to 1 in television ads," Leno said. "They've already started on Spanish stations."

Opponents hope for "two to three weeks" of TV time closer to the election, and have raised $2 million to finance advertising spots.

The proposition has since been renamed "The Limits on Marriage Initiative" at the insistence of Gov. Gray Davis.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.