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The Father of Proposition 8

Meet Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the apostle of the movement to deprive gay men and lesbians of the right to marry.

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Going into the fall, supporters of gay marriage finally woke up to what they were facing. Opponents of Proposition 8 would ultimately raise more money than Cordileone and his friends. But the campaign was hapless and disorganized, and same-sex marriage supporters became better known more for sporadic acts of vandalism and boycotts than for an affirmative message they could take to the voters. Meanwhile, Bishop Sal continued speaking at fund-raising gigs and leading rallies in San Diego.

In September, as the campaign was nearing the home stretch, Cordileone flew to the Philippines to genuflect before that country's sacred Catholic sites and muse upon the power of faith. There he found new strength to continue his fight against the "brutal regimes" of modernity and secularism run amok.

"I celebrated one of their great Marian feast days there," he said on the A Body of Truth show. "Tremendous devotion, streets are packed, shrines are packed, people processing, cheering on to their mother. And I thought, you know, people in a postmodernist mentality would look at this and think these are quaint folkloric customs that have nothing to do with reality. But I thought, you know, this is the same faith that brought down a brutal dictatorship. We have other kinds of brutal regimes we're facing in this country. As people of faith come together, we can bring them down."

On November 1, on the eve of the election, Cordileone found himself at another ecstatic religious festival. Pentecostal pastor Lou Engle organized "The Call," a massive pro-Proposition 8 rally at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, the home of football's San Diego Chargers. Tens of thousands of rhapsodic souls streamed into the stadium along with a Catholic procession from Mission San Diego. For twelve hours, they swooned and spasmed to fundamentalist hip-hop and frenzied testimony from young witnesses for Christ. Beneath the scoreboard, Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council exhorted everyone to save marriage. "Ex-gay" men and women told their stories of deliverance from the "lifestyle." Cordileone watched as pastors called on the masses to repent of their sins of complacency and negligence, and he thrilled to what he called the "sacramental worldview" on display.

Three days later, gay men and lesbians lost their right to marry in California.


Now, Salvatore Cordileone is leading the faithful in Oakland. Almost immediately after being named the new bishop, Cordileone sent a message that he has every intention of continuing the work he pursued so vigorously in San Diego. In March, Walter Hoye, a local minister and anti-abortion activist, was jailed for violating Oakland's law keeping protesters from coming within eight feet of the entrance to an abortion clinic. Bishop Sal visited Hoye in jail, where the two shouted encouragement to one another through the glass.

But bishops have many responsibilities, and some of them include working with the public at large on charity drives, city and state legislation, and relief for immigrants and the poor. Sooner or later, the public is going to find out what Bishop Sal did down in San Diego.

Cordileone knows that he's got a tough row to hoe in his new home. And he hopes that despite the past, he'll be able to work with others on "issues of common concern." Noting that four Oakland police officers were shot two days before he was announced as the new bishop, Cordileone said, "Maybe in God's scheme of things, he was sending me a signal that inner-city violence is something we need to be organizing our people around. I'm not saying that God made that happen, I'm just saying that's a sign of the times."

According to Dion Aroner, a former East Bay assemblywoman who now works as a lobbyist on liberal causes, most politicians and community organizers are professional enough to focus on the issues they have in common with Bishop Cordileone. "When you collaborate with different organizations, it doesn't mean you agree on everything," she said. "It means you agree on the issue you're collaborating on. Having said that, my presumption is for certain organizations in our community it would be very hard to sit down at the table with the bishop, if it's true that he was a leader in this movement. "

Rebecca Kaplan, a lesbian member of the Oakland City Council, agrees that she, too, will try to work with the new bishop. "The scripture makes quite clear that hatred or prejudice toward the stranger is the worst sin. But the fact that he has committed that sin will not prevent me from working with him, because I believe in working with everybody."

But then Kaplan learned what Bishop Cordileone had to say at the end of his interview on the A Body of Truth show. As the show was winding down, Bishop Sal mused upon gay marriage one last time. "The ultimate attack of the Evil One is the attack on marriage," he said. "If you take marriage apart, everything comes unraveled. It's been frayed at the edges, and now moving more and more toward the center. But you take marriage out, it all comes unraveled. It all comes tumbling down. And again, the evangelicals, they understand that. They understand this is an attack of the Evil One at the core institution."

When Kaplan heard that, she hissed, "My great-grandparents were rounded up and put in Nazi prison camps by people who used that sort of language."

Recently, Cordileone clarified those remarks. "I do believe that evil exists outside of people's minds," he said. "What I was saying, there is, we have to be spiritually aware that society is decaying. I know that people on the other side are people of good faith. ... I don't think they're consciously working for evil."

And so, when gay men and lesbians and their friends and families lay down their heads at night, they can rest easy. Because somewhere in the grand new cathedral on the shores of Lake Merritt, the new bishop of Oakland doesn't think they're consciously working for evil.

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