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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
February 2000


Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has released a statement on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing endorsed by 850 clergy members and other religious leaders as of January 20. World Net Daily and CNSNews.com both ran stories featuring extensive interviews with people disagreeing with the statement and discounting supporters. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story in the Living Religion section listing 31 signers from the Philadelphia area, including IWG supporters Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Rev. Geneva Butz, Rev. Beverly Dale, Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Rabbi Susan Marks, Rev. Rudy Nemser, Rev. Patricia Pearce, Rabbi Liz Rolle, Rabbi David A. Teutsch, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. The Rev. Stephen Snider has also subsequently signed. The Inquirer story and other mainstream reports focused on the section of the statement that calls for "full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same sex unions." The statement also calls for "theological reflection that integrates the wisdom of excluded, often silenced peoples, and insights about sexuality from medicine, social science, the arts and humanities;" "sexuality counseling and education throughout the lifespan from trained religious leaders;" "support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denomination;" "lifelong, age appropriate sexuality education in schools, seminaries, and community settings;" "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, and HIV/STD prevention and treatment;" and "religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice." The statement and an endorsement form are online at www.religionproject.org. SIECUS contact information: 130 W. 42nd St., Suite 350, NY, NY 10036-7802; phone 212/819-9770; fax: 212/819-9776 email: siecus@siecus.org.

Vermont Supreme Court Causes Consternation

In a long-awaited decision, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the denial of marriage benefits to same-gender couples is discriminatory, but not the denial of marriage licenses. Rather than redressing the grievances of the complainants, they left it to the Vermont legislature to decide how to end the discrimination. This decision (which may ultimately result in Vermont being the first state to legally recognize the marriages of same-gender couples, but which otherwise had no immediate effect) touched off yet another wave of comment and argument in the media, much of which was extremely muddled. As a result, during December and January we wrote twenty-eight letters related to the ruling, far more than we have ever written on one topic.

Media Reactions to the Vermont Decision

There was a great variety of editorials, columns, and letters reacting to Vermont's Supreme Court decision. For the most part, they fell into one or more of these categories: pro-marriage (for removing gender discrimination from civil marriage laws); pro-domestic-partnership (for providing some form of recognition for same-gender couples); pro-civil-rights (for universal civil rights --but no specific recommendations given); pro-equality (for treating mixed-gender and same-gender relationships as equal); anti-marriage (against universal marriage --marriage is only for mixed-gender couples); anti-equal-rights (against same-gender couples being entitled to the same rights as mixed-gender couples); anti-equality (mixed-gender relationships are viewed as inherently superior); anti-gay (stereotyping and scapegoating sexual minorities); and anti-anti-marriage (against opposition to equal marriage rights).

The pro-marriage editorials mostly distinguished between civil and religious marriage, while anti-marriage editorials did not. Other common problems were writers relying on the phrase "gay marriage" (even supporters of equal marriage rights); mentioning religious opposition, but not religious support; showing no grasp of the diversity of religious definitions of marriage; inconsistently discussing recognition of marriages by other states and the federal government; confusing gender discrimination and orientation discrimination; saying that removal of gender would render the civil law meaningless; asserting that the "problem" is legally complex; and implying that all mixed-gender civil marriages are inherently the same.

What's Next in Vermont?

According to the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Vermont House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee will hear several weeks of testimony, and want witnesses to discuss how to comply with the ruling, not whether to comply. The Committee's work is expected to conclude with a House vote by late February, when the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its process.

Religious Reactions to the Vermont Decision

A pastoral letter from Vermont's Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell urged people to rally against the legalization of same-gender marriage.

A January 20 Rutland (VT) Herald piece by Rev. William Sloane Coffin said in part: "...if for all of us marriage is a profound symbol, and for some of us a sacred one, what right have straight people to deny it to gays and lesbians for whom it is altogether as meaningful?"

By January 22, this statement in favor of equal marriage rights was signed by 18 clergy from several religious traditions, including the Rt. Rev. Mary Adelia R. McLeod (Episcopal bishop of Vermont), and the Rev. Susan Morrison (United Methodist bishop of Vermont).

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. [Song of Songs 8:7]

As religious leaders from a wide range of faith traditions, we believe that marriage can only be strengthened by extending our understanding of marriage to include the faithful committed relationships of same-gender couples. Since marriage involves taking on responsibilities as well as receiving privileges, we support same-gender couples who choose to enter into such a commitment.

We believe that human beings are called to live in right relationship with each other and with God. Therefore legalizing marriage for same gender couples will build community, support the well-being of children and families, and promote the common good.

We agree that when two women or two men make a loving commitment to one another and wish to assume the responsibilities of marriage, they exemplify a moral good which cannot be represented by so-called registered partnership. We support the Vermont legislature's passage of a bill that legalizes same-gender marriage.


Presbyterian Church (USA)

According to the Presbyterian News Service, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly will hear three of the four sexual orientation cases from the Synod of the Northeast: the Hudson River same-sex union case, the Northern New England Presbytery's decision not to enforce ordination restrictions, and the Presbytery of West Jersey's acceptance of Graham Van Keuren's candidacy.

United Methodist Church

Public hearings for the 67 California-Nevada United Methodist clergy participants in Jeanne Barnett's and Ellie Charleton's January 1999 covenant service will be Feb. 1-3 at Community United Methodist Church in Fairfield, CA. Euclid Ave. UMC in Oak Park, IL said they will go on paying their apportionment to the denomination, but due to disagreements with the denomination over ordination and union ceremonies, they will also give an equal $10,000 "to the work of the General Conference Coalition toward eliminating heterosexism in the UMC."

Boy Scouts of America

The US Supreme Court has announced that they will hear the Boy Scouts of America case and determine whether the Boy Scouts are subject to New Jersey's public accommodation non-discrimination laws. It is likely that the case will be heard in April and decided in July.

California

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has reiterated support for California's proposition 22 (Limit on Marriages Initiative) in church meetings. A church statement says: "On March 7, members of the church in California will have the unique opportunity to promote a measure that will help maintain and strengthen the family as a fundamental unit of society."

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable held A Call to Action: People of Faith Say No to CA Proposition 22 at the Irvine United Church of Christ on January 31. California's Solidarity Sabbath against Proposition 22 is February 11-14. Starting February 15, eighteen churches in the San Francisco Bay area are sponsoring a four week educational series at First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto called Homosexuality and Christian Faith: New Visions for the New Century.

Signatures are being collected for a proposition for the November ballot to legalize recognition of the marriages of same-gender couples, and another proposed initiative, "Defense of Sexual Responsibility Act 2000," is designed to prevent "public entities" from using the phrase "sexual orientation;" Orange County Register and San Francisco Examiner stories discussed the Christian Coalition's use of the "Sexual Responsibility" proposition to organize in Korean churches; in response, Korean Americans for Civil Rights has been formed.

Bible Curriculum

People for the American Way (PFAW) has released an extensive study on the use of "Bible History" classes in Florida public schools. Such classes are encouraged by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Numerous examples from the course materials and exams include an accusation that according to Jesus, the devil is the father of the Jews; a test question about proper use of the Bible for converting "a Jewish friend;" a question for students: "What is Jesus Christ's relationship to God, to creation, and to you?"; and a final exam question: "Using Scripture reference to support your thoughts, write a short essay about each of the following topics: a. God's Plan For The Family b. Living a Victorious Life In The World Which Is So Dark c. God's Directions For Righteous Living."

Web Site Update

Go to www.iwgonline.org to check out our website upgrades, including the new section for service texts and bulletins, starting with this year's Martin Luther King Day service, and a link to the SIECUS document (see page 1).

Letterhead Changes

Rev. Karla Fleshman has been added to the letterhead. Rabbi Arthur Waskow has returned to Philadelphia; Rabbi Waskow and the Shalom Center will be restored to the letterhead with the next printing. If you are a clergy-person who supports equal rights for sexual minorities, reproductive freedom and separation of church and state, call to have your name added.

New Suburban Philadelphia MCC Congregation?

Rev. Karla Fleshman has been appointed by the Mid-Atlantic District of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether there are people who want to be part of a new, intentionally diverse congregation in Philadelphia's northern and western suburbs. Contact Karla at PO Box 1264, Havertown, PA 19083-9998; 610-724-2146; or klflesh@mindspring.com.

House Chaplain

After a candidate for US House Chaplain said he was passed over by the House Leadership because he is a Roman Catholic priest, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wrote to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying this "ugly and divisive" religious conflict is why the chaplaincy should be abolished.


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