Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal political advocacy group masquerading as a First Amendment watchdog, is engaged in what in the military is called “mission creep.” Not satisfied with complaining about clergy endorsing candidates, AU started complaining about clergy talking about issues that are associated with candidates. Not satisfied with that, AU is now complaining about clergy, or even ordinary citizens, talking about issues in ways that the organization disagrees with politically. To wit: how dare Christians and others weigh in on California’s Proposition 8!

In all the emotional public debate over same-sex marriage, the overarching issue of church-state separation often gets lost.

And properly so, because it isn’t the “overarching issue.” The status of marriage as being the union on one man and one woman is not a religious issue. It is a recognition of a biological and cultural reality that pre-dates any form of organized religion. Giving the right to marry to homosexuals may–may–be a legitimate civil rights (specifically, equal protection) issue, but it has nothing to do with church and state.

Last week, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News called to talk to about Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment that takes away gay couples’ right to get married in the Golden State.

I told Swift that federal tax law forbids religious groups (and other tax-exempt entities) to endorse candidates but it generally doesn’t forbid them to speak out on referenda. I added, however, that it’s still deeply troubling to see three extraordinarily powerful faith traditions – the Religious Right, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and the Roman Catholic hierarchy — throwing their weight around so blatantly on a sensitive civil rights and civil liberties issue.

Which is another way of saying, “how dare they oppose the political outcome AU desires?” There’s nothing in this article, of course, about the opposition to the referendum from the United Church of Christ or Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, nor is there anything about the opposition from the Episcopal Church’s California bishops (though there is a laudatory reference to a Baptist minister and some Seventh-Day Adventists, who evidently aren’t throwing any weight around). The writer, Joseph Conn, doesn’t give a hoot or holler about religious organizations “throwing their weight around,” unless it’s for the wrong cause.

“At its heart,” I told the newspaper, “the marriage issue is a church-state issue. In effect, you have several of the large faith groups trying to impose their viewpoint on marriage on the whole state. That’s really what’s going on with this referendum.”

As opposed to the various religious groups that have supported court challenges to marriage laws in various states. They aren’t trying to impose anything, right? They are only trying to use judicial fiat to do what they can’t accomplish through political persuasion, namely, change laws that have been supported by religious believers and non-religious people throughout Western society for centuries, and have only come under fire within the last twenty years.

For example, according to the Mercury News, a Yes on 8 campaign spokesman said Mormon donors make up “30 to 40 percent” of the $28 million raised this year to place the measure on the ballot. Since Oct. 1, the newspaper said, the committee has received nearly as much out-of-state money from predominantly Mormon Utah as from the other 48 states combined.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops are working assiduously for Proposition 8, while the Knights of Columbus has kicked in $1.2 million to help out.

Any minute he’s going to tell us that the Priory of Sion is behind the whole campaign. The Los Angeles Times gives a bit different perspective on the campaigns’ funding:

As of Friday, supporters of Proposition 8 had raised $27.5 million, with about 19% of the money coming from outside California. Opponents have raised $31.2 million, with 34% of the money coming from outside the state.

Primary contributors to the opposition have included celebrities, liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, public employee unions and gay philanthropists.

The California Teachers Assn. has also entered the fray, spending $1.3 million — more than any other single donor — to defeat Proposition 8. The California arm of Service Employees International Union kicked in $500,000. Both unions are giving, they say, because their members support same-sex marriage.

Oh, but wait. I forgot. The teachers union and ACLU aren’t churches, so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about regarding their advocacy. Their motives are, I’m sure, pure as the driven snow, unlike those sneaky Catholics and Mormons, trying to impose a theocracy on an unwilling populace that would otherwise never vote for such a progressive measure unless they were subject to religious mind-control.

Back to AU:

Evangelical, Mormon and Catholic churches are free to restrict the marriages they perform to man-woman couples. But Unitarian, United Church of Christ and Reform Jewish congregations take a different view and extend their blessings to same-sex couples as well. What about their religious freedom?

Well, guess what? They are perfectly free to extend those blessings, and in fact have done so for years. The lack of legal sanction for gay marriage has never prevented them from doing so, and the passage of Proposition 8 wouldn’t, either. The question of what blessings religious organizations do of whatever kind of relationship has nothing to do with whether the state will regognize those relationships as protected and encouraged by granting them the status of marriage.

Oh, and by the way, I’ can’t help but wondering: where was Americans United when the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints were under assault for their continuing practice of polygamy? Where was their religious freedom, hmmm?

Oh, wait, I remember. That battle is for the next decade.