The expensive battle to pass a referendum defining marriage as valid only between a man and a woman split California churches along familiar liberal-conservative theological fault lines. And, observers predict, it could signal a future fight about the tax-exempt status of some churches.

The 14-word measure passed by a margin of 61-39 percent. The move means that gay marriages, already prohibited in the state, will not be legally recognized by California if other states permit such unions. Several other states are considering legislation that would legalize same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, a new group called Californians for Same- Sex Marriage plans to gather a million signatures in a bid to overturn Proposition 22 this November.

Ballot initiatives have long been used in the nation's most populous state to amend the California constitution or pass the equivalent of legislation. Initiatives have reduced taxes, blocked immigrant services, and banned affirmative action.

Proposition 22 (The Defense of Marriage) received support and opposition from a wide range of religious groups. On the pro-22 side, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) joined evangelicals and Roman Catholics in providing funding as well as volunteers. Known for their strong commitment to marriage and family values, Mormons drew substantial criticism for contributing $500,000 to the effort, as well as sending letters urging church members to donate and volunteer for the cause.

Large evangelical churches, including the 25,000-member Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, promoted the measure forcefully. Another Calvary Chapel, in Santa Ana, mailed 4,000 fliers to its members along with a weekly bulletin.

Both sides raised—and spent—millions of dollars on television advertising and signs advocating stances on the measure. Helping Hands Ministry in Tallulah Falls, Ga., sent the Committee for the Defense of Marriage a $440,000 check, but later requested—and received—a $376,000 refund when the group learned it may have overstepped state campaign funding limits.

Roman Catholic bishops statewide supported the ballot measure. But Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney also issued a statement cautioning that passage of the measure should not be an "excuse for hatred" of homosexuals.

Pro-22 activities stirred the ire of some, says Brad Ducas, president of the Pacific Justice Institute in Citrus Heights. Ducas said he has already received calls from churches harassed for their pro-22 activism.

"There has been a growing degree of intolerance and hostility against religious institutions by local governments and community leaders to intimidate churches from being the voice of the community on this issue," Ducas tells CT. "It is our job to step in the gap and provide them the legal backbone they need to stand up to sometimes aggressive threats to their tax-exempt status."

He says local governments and other groups have threatened some pro-22 churches with protests to the IRS, claiming the churches' support was a violation of their tax-exempt status.

"This is an issue that goes beyond Proposition 22," Ducas says. "It goes to the rights of pastors and churches to flourish in accord with their own religious beliefs and convictions. If you deny one church their freedom to function, you surrender the rights of all."

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