In the message dated March 29 sent to D.C. and Southern Maryland-area church members, the writer states that a coalition of inter-denominational Maryland churches has joined to place a referendum before voters in November on the marriage law before it goes into effect.
“We need to collect approximately 200,000 signatures by the end of May,” the email states. “We are looking for people to gather signatures within the LDS community.”
LDS refers to the church’s formal name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those involved with the effort have told the Blade the message isn’t an official message from church leadership either at the local level or from its headquarters in Salt Lake City, but is rather part of a local ad hoc effort to challenge Maryland’s marriage law.
The email says the “important effort” is being led by Martha Schaerr, an LDS member who’s organizing signature collection within Montgomery County and within the church. Another named organizer in the email is Teressa Wallace.
An informed source said the email was sent to the entire congregation in D.C. and Southern Maryland, which consists of between 500 and 1,500 church members and former members. According to the source, the author is Wallace, one of the named organizers in the email and wife of one of the junior pastors of the congregation.
Only 55,736 valid signatures are needed to force a ballot measure in Maryland. The stated goal of obtaining 200,000 signatures is likely an attempt to over deliver in case the validity of some signatures is challenged.
According to the email, church members interested in organizing training sessions are required to attend a 30-minute training session, “due to the stringent Maryland laws concerning referendums.”
“There will be several training sessions offered, but if transportation to them is a problem for you, a trainer would be happy to meet with you at a more convenient time and location,” the email states.
The email says the Mormon Church is “neutral on matters of party politics,” but asks that members take an active role in civic duties.
“The Church does encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections, and becoming engaged in the political process in an informed and civil manner,” the email states. “Please consider helping with this very important effort. Every signature is important and every little bit helps!”
In an email to the Blade, Schaerr said she’s organizing against the Maryland marriage law not out of any guidance or pressure from the church, but on her own accord.
“My understanding of the religious principles taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in ‘The Proclamation on the Family,’ the scriptures and numerous statements by church leaders has informed my conscience, and I am seeking to follow my conscience,” the email states.
Schaerr also expressed concern that the same-sex marriage law in Maryland would stifle those who want to speak out against homosexuality.
“I believe the Maryland law extends beyond providing rights to gay couples and actually seeks to silence religious objections to same sex relationships by changing the definition of marriage,” she said.