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Washington state moves closer to legalizing gay marriage

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Opponents of gay marriage promised a fight at the ballot box after the state Senate on Wednesday took a major step toward making Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage.

After passing the Senate 28 to 21, the bill is now headed for expected approval in the House and on to Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, who has promised to sign it.

"There's still a lot of work to be done, we have to be diligent, but we're confident that this legislation will make it to the governor's desk," said Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage, a statewide coalition fighting for marriage equality.

Opponents, however, are putting up a fight. They will have until July to collect more than 150,000 signatures to put the measure to a public vote on the November ballot.

"I am happy it passed, but it will undoubtedly face a referendum in the fall, so it's too soon to begin talking about what it all means," said Rev. Bill Ellis, dean of Spokane's Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Obama says faith mandates him to care for the poor

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama connected his faith with his policies toward the poor at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, a subtle but sharp contrast to remarks made by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney the day before.

"Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need," Obama said before an audience of about 3,000 at the Washington Hilton. These values, he said, "they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey."

Specifically, Obama said, they translate to policies that support research to fight disease and support foreign aid. His faith, he continued, inspires him "to give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy."

Romney has come under fire for telling CNN on Wednesday that "I'm not concerned about the very poor," but is instead focused on the middle class. He later said his remarks were taken out of context, and promised to fix any holes in the safety net protecting the impoverished.

Which Catholics are against contraception coverage?

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COMMENTARY

There's a battle brewing in America, one that is at the very heart of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and of individual conscience.

Or so one might think in listening to the U.S. Catholic bishops and some conservative Catholic and Christian media.

They argue against the Obama administration's requirement that health care coverage for women mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act include contraception, and that "that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith," according to one bishop's letter to his diocese.

Right still reads Falwell's playbook

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Analysis

Religion in America has long been prominent in the public square, but it is only recently that the primary face of religion in political discourse has been the face of conservative evangelical Christianity. The outsize role of conservative evangelicals in the Republican Party nominating process attests to the success of a group of conservative pastors such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson and others in representing the views of their adherents and bringing their flocks to the polls.

Same-sex marriage issue facing lawmakers, voters in several states

WASHINGTON -- The same-sex marriage issue will be facing lawmakers and voters in several states this year.

Democratic-controlled legislatures in Washington state, Maryland and New Jersey are considering legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, while Maine voters will vote on a same-sex marriage referendum in November.

Voters in North Carolina and Minnesota will consider constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. In New Hampshire, the Republican-controlled legislature is gearing up to vote on a bill that could reverse that state's same-sex marriage law.

Maryland Gov. Martin J. O'Malley, a Catholic, is sponsoring legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. If it passes Maryland will be the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriages.

Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, said same-sex marriage is being pushed by a small group of advocates.

Issues of conscience, without hyperbole

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The Department of Health and Human Services’ recent refusal to expand the federal definition of religious employers who can be exempted from offering contraceptive and sterilization coverage in their employee health insurance plans has stirred strong reactions. Some critics have evoked images of bygone American anti-Catholicism and claimed that the White House is at war with the church and has engaged in a historic assault on Catholicism.

Resist the pipeline and find a new, greener way

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The Obama administration rightfully rejected the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. Congressional Republicans had given the president a Feb. 21 deadline to either green light the TransCanada Corporation’s proposal, or determine the project is not in the national interest. If built, the 1,700-mile-long conduit would run from Western Canada’s tar sands areas across our border into the Dakotas and head south to Texas refineries.

New foreign policy on gay rights seen as threat to religious liberty

QUINCY, Mass. -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement in December that respect for gay rights is now a factor in the Obama administration's foreign policy decisions is on a collision course with religious freedom, said an official with the Becket Fund.

"This administration clearly wants to elevate certain rights over others. And unfortunately it seems that religious freedom is never prioritized in their foreign policy as it should be," Tina Ramirez told The Anchor, newspaper of the Fall River Diocese.

Ramirez is director of government and international relations for the Becket Fund, which seeks to protect the free expression all faiths.

On Dec. 6, Clinton announced to U.N. diplomats in Geneva that U.S. agencies engaged abroad have been instructed to "combat the criminalization" of the "status or conduct" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

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