At least six Catholic parishes in Washington have opted out of the petition drive for Referendum 74, which calls for a public vote with the intention to ban equal marriage.

In February, the governor of Washington, Chris Gregoire, signed into law a legislation that extends marriage to same-sex couples. The bill comes into effect on June 7. In order for the amendment to be placed on the ballot in November, at least 120,577 signatures are needed by the 6th of June.

The petition has been officially endorsed by the state’s Archbishop, J. Peter Sartain. He said that all persons “should be treated with respect, sensitivity and love,” but wrote in the letter, cosigned by Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, that: “It is important to remember that all Christians are called to chastity, and sexual intercourse is so intimate and significant that it is intended only for a man and woman in marriage.”

However, taking advantage of the fact that the letter gave warrant for individual dioceses to take their own decisions on whether or not to gather signatures for the Referendum, Rev. Tim Clark at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church decided he would opt out of the drive, making it the sixth parish to do so. His announcement was greeted by the parishioners with a standing ovation during the Mass this Sunday.

“I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parishoners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,” Rev Clark said in an e-mail to Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He added: “The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish.  I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people.  He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’ That is my prayer.”

The other parishes to have distanced themselves from the signature-drive include St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph Church, St. Mary’s Church, St. Patrick Church and Christ Our Hope Catholic Church.

Rev. Michael Ryan of the St. James Cathedral, echoing sentiments expressed by heads of the other churches, wrote in an e-mail to his parishioners: “After discussing the matter with the members of the Cathedral’s pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish. Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.”

Rev. Clark further added: “When I first read the archbishop’s letter I was troubled by the content and his intentions… In conscience, I could not allow signatures to be gathered, to allow the faith to be politicized in this way.”

“What troubles me is the message this whole approach sends which I find discriminatory and insensitive,” Rev. Clark wrote. “To follow through with his wishes would be hurtful, divisive and a countersign to what we are trying to foster in this Catholic community in Wedgwood… I deeply believe, and say this with boldness, that this approach is not in the mind of Christ.”