Across Chattanooga, many pastors of large church congregations are asking their members to sign a petition that would force the City Council to either repeal the controversial domestic partner ordinance passed last week or put it on the August 2014 ballot.
Election commissioners unanimously approved the petition Wednesday. This was a day after City Council voted 5-3 to pass the bill, which will allow employees next year to sign their partners, whether gay or straight, onto their health insurance plans.
Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency, the local PAC spearheading the petition, now has nine days to collect signatures of at least 4,460 registered voters to give residents the right to vote on the ordinance in August 2014.
"The will of God will be done whether they [achieve] it or not," said Councilman Yusuf Hakeem. "I don't want to sound flippant, but it's an issue we have voted on. As far as I'm concerned, it's complete."
Gary Jared, senior pastor at Stuart Heights Baptist Church, has been dropping off the petition at area places of worship. He was tapped to make copies and spread the word at First Presbyterian Church.
"With an issue this divisive, everyone knows how the church will stand," Jared said. "But for five people to turn around and make that decision for all of us? I don't think that's right."
The petition was available before and after Jared's sermon Sunday at Stuart Heights, listed in the day's bulletin as an option for churchgoers.
Even if the petition fails to garner enough signatures to put the measure up for a public vote in August 2014, Jared said he will remain satisfied with the outcome.
"I don't want to change anybody's convictions or worldviews," Jared said. "If the benefits stay, I'm not going to fight it."
Citizens group leader Mark West, who also heads the Chattanooga Tea Party, said he's overwhelmed by the response from people interested in distributing the petitions in their churches and neighborhoods and by setting up sites across the city for people to drive to. The petition headquarters, located at 5962 Brainerd Road, will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Dec. 3.
But West doesn't want to say it will be easy to get enough legitimate signatures.
"It seems like an achievable number but the clock is ticking," West said. "In the day and age of electronics, this is the old-fashioned way of pen and paper. Those take a fair amount of effort."
Some local church leaders said they don't plan to promote the petition.
The Rev. Dr. Paul McDaniel, pastor of Second Missionary Baptist where Hakeem and Councilman Moses Freeman attend, said he doesn't agree with the petition. He said while some churches have taken a hard stance against sexual preference, he doesn't see the lines that way.
"That's not the issue of the Christian faith," said McDaniel. "My faith is loving."
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.