Thousands at stadium; mayor speaks at vigil
By Matthew T. Hall and Michael Stetz
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
November 2, 2008
San Diego became a front in the war over same-sex marriage yesterday, as groups on both sides of the issue asked God to guide voters toward the right decision on Election Day.
NELVIN C. CEPEDA / Union-Tribune Thousands of people gathered at Qualcomm Stadium to fast and pray, many in support of Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage statewide.
Meanwhile, opponents of the measure held a morning prayer service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral near Balboa Park and later a candlelight vigil in Hillcrest with Mayor Jerry Sanders and his lesbian daughter, Lisa.
Speakers at the events couldn’t stress enough the importance of the issue.
“The very foundations of law are being shattered,” Lou Engle, coordinator of the stadium event, told early arrivals as they settled in for 12 hours of prayer and music. “We can’t see between right and wrong anymore.”
Last night in Hillcrest, Sanders told about 3,000 people: “Tonight we let California know that everybody deserves the same rights. No one can take those fundamental rights away.”
A Field Poll released Thursday shows the Proposition 8 race has tightened recently. In a poll of 966 likely voters taken late last month, 49 percent opposed the measure, 44 percent supported it and the remaining 7 percent were undecided.Last month, the Field Poll showed the measure losing, 38 percent to 55 percent.
Yesterday’s stadium event, known as TheCall, was the latest in a series of religious gatherings in U.S. cities since 2000. Part spiritual revival, part music festival and part political rally, it drew people from Alaska and New York, but mostly from California. Many cars bore “Yes on 8” bumper stickers.
Inside, on a giant stage set up under the stadium scoreboard, Engle, TheCall’s co-founder, and a string of pastors spent the day asking the crowd to stand, pray and repent while spiritual music blasted from speakers around the field.
Several pastors spoke passionately about protecting marriage between one man and one woman and – in seeming reference to Proposition 4, an abortion-related, parental-notification ballot measure – the unborn.
People of all ages prayed with eyes closed, arms raised, hands clasped or clapping, mouths moving silently or bursting in song, swaying, shaking, dancing, alone and in small circles.
Organizers estimated there were 33,000 people inside the stadium by 3:30 p.m., but a crowd count was difficult to obtain because attendees could come and go throughout the day. Although a cluster remained in front of the stage as the hours passed, the stands, which can hold 71,000 people, never looked more than one-third full.
Some in the crowd acknowledged the event’s political implications, while others downplayed them.
Dan Wuestenberg, 26, came to San Diego with his wife, Tarrah, 21, and their 5-week-old baby, Jericho, from Wasilla, Alaska, now known as the home of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
“This is the first trip that we can devote to God’s will,” Wuestenberg said.
June Ainley, 56, made the trip with a youth group from Tulare. She said she has missed only one of the national TheCall events since the first one in Washington, D.C., eight years ago, which drew about 400,000 people.
“That’s when all that went on in Florida, and that’s what put President Bush in office – all that prayer,” Ainley said.
Mixing their own prayers with politics, as many as 400 opponents of Proposition 8 showed up for the interfaith service near Balboa Park, billed as Make the Right Call, in answer to TheCall.
Clergy members of different faiths wore “No on 8” stickers on their vestments.
“The purpose of today is to stand on the side of love,” said the Very Rev. Scott Richardson, dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
In that vein, speaker after speaker focused on the importance of love and acceptance for all.
The Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire of United Church of Christ in La Mesa spoke of a lesbian friend who felt her life was incomplete because of society’s treatment of gays.
“As long as she is not fully human, neither am I,” said Brookshire, whose homily was interrupted by applause several times.
The Rev. Felix Villanueva, also from United Church of Christ in La Mesa, said praying for discrimination is wrong. Instead, prayers should go out for “the sick, the homeless and lives wasted in war.”
People attending the interfaith service said they wanted to show they have strong faith as well.
Randy Clark, 55, and Tom Maddox, 51, bicycled to St. Paul’s from La Jolla. They were married in August. Church members both, they teach Sunday school.
“People of faith belong in equality,” Clark said. “True religious teaching supports all loving relationships.”
Barbara Whitman, 55, and Mary Miller, 46, were married in September and went to the event to protect that union, the San Marcos couple said. “God’s will is that everybody deserves love,” Miller said.
Jennifer and Jed Siemer-Arrogante were there to support others, including many of their friends who happen to be gay, they said. The Vista couple brought their 22-month-old child, Nathaniel.
“I don’t want to raise my child in a world where there is discrimination,” Jennifer said.
Matthew Hall: (619) 542-4599;firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Stetz: (619) 293-1720; email@example.com