Voicing concern that "rhetoric may obscure the requirements of justice," more than 150 clergy and religious professionals in Massachusetts last week urged passage of a gay rights bill in the 1987 state legislative session.

The statement released by the interfaith group noted that debate about the bill "has become increasingly vitriolic . . . . No matter what our moral convictions are concerning homosexuality, they are not relevant considerations in the determination of civil justice." The signers challenged the Senate leadership "to respect the majority will in the Senate" rather than defeat the bill "by procedural maneuvers."

Preparation and circulation of the statement was coordinated by the Massachusetts Council of Churches and the American Jewish Congress. The interfaith statement focused attention on the bill as a matter of basic civil rights and asserted that "adequate evidence exists that homosexuals are victims of unjust discrimination."

It said that "the bill does not grant any special privileges. Rather, it guarantees the basic civil rights to which all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled under our state's democratic ideals."

The signers included a representative group of Protestant and Jewish leadership in the state -- church leaders, parish clergy, council of churches executives, prominent rabbis, seminary professors and Christian and Jewish religious professionals.

A council of churches spokesman said that only two signers are Catholic priests, noting that Catholic leaders in Massachusetts have previously come out against the bill.