Inspired by a group of former Catholic priests in Minnesota who spoke out in May against a proposed marriage discrimination amendment to that state’s constitution, 63 former Catholic priests in Washington State will announce their support Thursday for Referendum 74, the November ballot initiative that, if passed, would uphold Washington State’s new marriage equality law and make it the seventh American state that recognizes the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the group, whose members have more than 800 years in combined experience as Catholic priests, wants to send a strong message that’s in stark contrast to the anti-equality efforts of Washington’s Catholic bishops:

“We are uneasy with the aggressive efforts of Catholic bishops to oppose R-74 and want to support the 71 percent of Catholics (Public Religion Research Institute) who support civil marriage for gays as a valid Catholic position,” they said in a statement.

Former priest Pat Callahan, who organized the statement, added:  “This is the first public action we’ve taken.”  Callahan was in the Catholic priesthood for 15 years.

Similar to their counterparts in Minnesota, the Washington State Catholic Conference appears to be having a hard time convincing lay Catholics to sign on to their divisive and discriminatory anti-gay campaign:

Same-sex marriage legislation passed last winter.  It was championed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Catholic:  Its chief legislative sponsor was State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a practicing Catholic and long-partnered gay.

A group called Catholics for Marriage Equality-Washington was prominent in Seattle’s Pride Day march last June.

Several major Catholic parishes — including Seattle’s St. James Cathedral — refused Archbishop J. Peter Sartain’s request to serve as collection center for petitions to force a vote on same-sex marriage.

In contrast to the state’s homophobic bishops, a coalition of Washington faith leaders, including an Episcopal bishop and several prominent Methodist pastors, have publicly come out in support of Referendum 74. In just 28 days, we’ll learn which side was more successful in getting its message across. Stay tuned.