Mention of marriage in opening prayer angers Senate Democrats

OLYMPIA — The legislative session got off to a rocky start Monday when a call to strengthen marriage was included in the state Senate’s opening prayer.

As a Washington State Patrol honor guard stood at attention and lawmakers bowed their heads in contemplation, Pastor Jon Sanne included in his invocation a call for the strengthening of marriage “as You ordained it for our good and Your glory.”

“Completely inappropriate,” Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said of the comment, which he and others saw as a knock on same-sex marriage.

“Regrettable,” said Seattle Sen. Ed Murray, the Democratic leader.

Sanne insisted in an interview later that he was not making a political statement.

“I was just asked to pray. I wasn’t praying to the Democrats. I was praying to God,” he said. “If they come to that conclusion, then they’re reading more into it than they should.”

Sanne, of Olympia’s Calvary Chapel, was invited by Republican leader Mark Schoesler. Invocations are common at the start of workdays during session.

But Democrats said Sanne crossed several lines. A letter sent to all giving invocations, including Sanne, asks that the prayer be interdenominational and refrain from referencing specific legislation, “proselytizing, or persuasion.”

Sanne is unlikely to be invited back, said Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat.

Lawmakers approved gay marriage last year. Voters approved it in November.

Murray, an architect of that legislation, called Sanne’s statement “negative commentary about gays and lesbians” that “has no business being included in a prayer before this institution.”

Schoesler said he did not know Sanne would mention marriage.

“I asked him to speak, and I don’t censor prayer,” the Ritzville Republican said.

Sanne’s church is a known opponent of gay marriage.

In September, it donated $5,000 to the campaign against legalization.

And last year, it hosted an event to rally opposition to the concept.

That event featured former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential hopeful.