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On the Eve of Big D.C. March, Leaders Argue California Should Be Patient About Same-Sex Marriage

The founder of the nation's largest LGBT church and a noted activist say when it comes to restoring same-sex marriage to California, patience is a virtue.

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Gratified that a faithful remnant of brave clergy, including California Faith for Equality, stood with us in vowing to win back the freedom to marry, we vow to expand the ranks of these voices of conscience as we build toward repealing Prop. 8 in 2012.

Still, we are not naïve. We know that a sizable chunk of the 52 percent of state voters who approved Prop. 8 are those whose opposition to marriage equality is absolute and unflinching.

But if we are to make inroads with churchgoing Californians in restoring the freedom to marry for committed same-sex couples, it will be wise to avoid painting caricatures of the religious -- especially specific denominations -- or lambasting antagonistic clergy.

Gay activists benefit by holding up a mirror to those who proclaim intolerance in the name of God and by providing solidarity and sanctuary to those seeking an inclusive church home.

Let our antagonists in collars be who they are: They do our organizing work for us when they use their pulpits to bully gay people or allies.

Politically, we see promise in projecting the voices of congregational leaders and parishioners whose fair-minded voices resonate within their denominations, congregations and communities.

As proponents of equality, we know that numbers and trends are on our side. The venerable Field Poll of California voters revealed in August that support for marriage equality has risen from 31 percent in 1977 to 49 percent today.

A recent survey by Polling 4 Equality, which supports the restoration of marriage rights for same-sex couples, showed that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in California -- 73 percent -- report knowing someone who is gay or lesbian.

Surveys from Gallup indicate that familiarity with a gay person is a determining factor in support for gay couples' freedom to marry, which is especially high among young voters.

Time is on our side, and we should make the most of it. Each election means more anti-equality voters leave the California electorate and more pro-equality voters cast their first ballots.

Taking advantage of three years until a new vote on restoring marriage equality, we aim to turn parity with foes of equality -- or by some surveys, a minuscule plurality now in support -- into a strong majority.

The movement for LGBT equality has matured. Where once we fought to prevent state resources from being used to persecute us in the form of police abuse and raids on gay bars and social clubs, we now also fight to be included equally and fully in the protections of the state.

Building welcoming faith communities, including the founding of the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles in 1968, has been a key step in that movement. We gained both spiritual homes and launching pads for local outreach.

Our challenge is to take that tradition to a new level of one-on-one advocacy with religious Californians and the state's newest voters leading up to 2012.

How well we work with our faith allies to broaden alliances and build rank-and-file support for equality over the next three years will help decide whether same-sex couples in California regain the freedom to marry.

The Rev. Troy Perry is founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, the largest LGBT denomination, and a plaintiff in the marriage cases in California. Hans Johnson is a political consultant, commentator and contributing editor at In These Times magazine.