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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
December 2001/January 2002


Reform Judaism and Domestic Partnership

On November 8, the Reform Movement sent a letter signed by Rabbi David Saperstein (Director, Religious Action Center) and Judge David S. Davidson (Chairman, Commission on Social Action) to forty-nine state governors encouraging them to follow the lead of California Governor Gray Davis and publicly support domestic partnership benefits for gays and lesbians. The text of the letter follows:

On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), whose membership exceeds 1800 rabbis, and the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), whose membership exceeds 100,000 Reform Jewish women, we write urging you to publicly support the expansion of domestic partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples.

On October 14, California Governor Gray Davis signed A.B. 25, landmark legislation that allows domestic partners to make medical decisions in hospitals, sue for wrongful death, use sick leave to care for an ill partner or the child of a domestic partner, administer a partner's estate, and relocate with a domestic partner without losing unemployment benefits. Additionally, the law exempts partners from state income tax for the health benefits provided to domestic partners and ensures the continuation of health benefits for surviving partners of government employees and retirees. The law also protects domestic partners under second-parent adoption law, guaranteeing domestic partners the right to adopt a partner's child as a stepparent.

Recognizing both the legitimacy and the reality of gay and lesbian relationships is, we believe, a statement in favor of family values. Providing increased access to health care and expanded family benefits, such as those guaranteed in A.B. 25, should serve as a model for our nation's communities.

Now is the time to act. Your leadership is necessary to break a legal barrier that stands in the way of equality for all Americans. By publicly supporting domestic partnership benefits, you will provide a powerful voice to the campaign to strengthen American families.

In a November, 2000 resolution, the Commission on Social Action, a joint instrumentality of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, called upon state governments to "adopt legislation that will afford all legal protections currently available to married couples to committed lesbian and gay domestic partners." In 1997, the Women of Reform Judaism passed a resolution urging the "support of federal, state, provincial and local legislation that will require spousal benefits for lesbian and gay individuals in committed relationships."

Jewish tradition teaches us that we are all created in the image of God (b'tselem Elohim). Each of us is uniquely capable of working to repair the world, and thus inherently valuable. It is in this spirit that as a nation, we celebrate our diversity and insist on equality for all. Especially in these troubled times, equality, along with our other constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, must reign supreme if we are to remain united and strong.


Donors Page

We have added a donors page to the web site (iwgonline.org/donors/). All organizations and trusts that donate in the future will be listed automatically, and any individual who donates will be listed on request. If you or your organization or trust have donated in the past and would like to be listed, please let us know, and we will be happy to add you.

You Can Help

As the end of the calendar year approaches, many congregations may be considering what organizations to support with monetary gifts in the coming year. We are an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) with a small budget, so every little bit helps. For individuals who make contributions before the end of the year, you may include the gift in your itemizations on your 2001 tax return. (All donors receive confirmation letters, so you can keep this for your records.) Please consider making a contribution to the Interfaith Working Group this December or January to help us carry on our work. Thank you!

Salvation Army and Domestic Partnership

A statement from the Salvation Army's USA Western Territory announced that the organization was looking into providing Domestic Partnership benefits, "recognizing the vital role played by employees in facilitating the delivery of many of the Army's ministries." The proposed change in policy, while a step in the right direction, was accompanied by a reiteration of the Salvation Army's belief that same-gender sexual relationships are wrong, and an unfortunate comparison was made between such relationships and wife beating. Reaction from the Radical Religious Right was immediate and furious, and on November 12, the American Family Association (AFA) announced that the Salvation Army's Commissioner's Conference had established a national policy to extend health benefits to an employee's spouse and dependant children only.

PFLAG, Basic Rights Oregon, Chi Rho Press, Equal Partners in Faith, and Soulforce are among the organizations encouraging individuals to put notes in Salvation Army kettles explaining why the money that normally would have been contributed is going to other charities.

Donald Wildmon, head of the AFA was quoted in AgapePress responding to the original announcement that benefits would be offered: "Unfortunately, I'm going to have to say that when I pass the kettles going in or out of a store this Christmas, I'm going to have to keep my money and put it into another place that I'll trust to be more in keeping with the biblical mandate of the family and human sexuality."

Gary Glenn, head of the AFA of Michigan was quoted in cnsnews.com responding to reports that PFLAG was encouraging leaving notes in kettles: "Nothing could be more cold-hearted and callous, especially at Christmas, than trying to advance a political cause by attacking charitable efforts to help the poorest and neediest citizens of Flint."

Religious Institute

Debra Haffner, former SIECUS CEO, and Rev. Larry Greenfield, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches of the USA are now co-directors of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. According to their web site (religiousinstitute.org) the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, originally distributed by SIECUS and endorsed by the IWG Coordinators and several IWG supporters, is now under the aegis of the Institute.

The Institute "develops and supports an expanding religious network of clergy, religious educators, theologians, theological ethicists, and other religious leaders committed to this vision of religion and sexuality. It builds the capacity of religious institutions and clergy to offer sexuality education within the context of their own faith traditions and to advocate for sexual rights; helps congregations become sexually healthy faith communities; and educates the public and policy makers about this vision of sexual morality, justice, and healing."

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to set aside $250,000 in start-up funds for the development of a social statement on human sexuality and a church-wide study on homosexuality; it also voted "to affirm that there are no preconceived conclusions on the content of the recommendations that will be submitted to the 2005 and subsequent Churchwide Assemblies."

According to the ELCA News Service, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Key West, FL, became "the first Lutheran congregation in Florida to install a non-celibate, gay pastor," namely the Rev. Arlo David Peterson. The Miami Herald quoted Greg Egertson, of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, who said that Peterson is one of "more than a dozen gay or lesbian Lutheran pastors nationwide serving in defiance of church rules."

U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops

According to Soulforce reports, thirty Soulforce volunteers stood in prayerful vigil outside the annual meeting of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in Washington, DC. After they sang a Taize hymn, one of the bishops greeted each person in line and accepted, blessed, and donned a rainbow cross; the next day at least five bishops agreed to meet with Soulforce volunteers with whom they had corresponded, and two nuns participating in the conference joined in the vigil.

Terminology Clarification

We have been using the phrase "sexual minorities" as shorthand for "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" in our written materials, including the mission statement. While we will continue to use the expression in situations where it seems appropriate, we are clarifying the mission statement, which now says:

We believe that the characterization of religion as inherently conservative, and the subsequent portrayal of social debates as disagreements between the religious and the irreligious undermine faith in religious institutions and the ideal of religious diversity.

Our mission is to inform the public of the diversity of religious opinion on social issues where it is not widely recognized by providing a voice and a forum for religious organizations, congregations and clergy who support equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; reproductive freedom; and the separation of church and state.


Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Presbyterian Coalition has published a vision statement calling for the creation of a temporary "shadow denomination," followed by the restructuring and downsizing of the PCUSA and the expulsion or discipline of congregations who disagree with them about a "Biblical" ordination standard (a phrase not defined in the document, but the meaning of which can probably be inferred, based on other statements, to mean ordination of non-GLBT individuals only).

San Joaquin Presbytery has filed complaints against the Presbytery of the Redwoods for failing to conduct "the appropriate examination" of the Rev. Katie Morrison, and against the Synod of the Pacific for not preventing her ordination in the first place.

Lancaster, PA Human Relations Commission

Ten years ago, Lancaster City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination within the city. Jurisdictional conflicts arose between the city (which did not have a human relations commission) and the county (which has no protections for orientation or marital status), so the ordinance was never enforced. On November 27, the City Council unanimously amended the discrimination code to establish a city human relations commission, to provide for enforcement, and to clarify existing provisions.

The amended discrimination code covers employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and lending, and includes sexual orientation, defined for purposes of the ordinance as "male or female homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, and any other gender identity, by practice, or as perceived by others."

Maryland Non-Discrimination Law

Maryland became the twelfth state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation when a recently-passed anti-discrimination law survived an attempted ballot challenge. Takebackmaryland.org (the organization which attempted to challenge the law) reached an agreement with civil rights advocates in which they acknowledged that they did not have enough signatures for the challenge to be included on the November 2002 ballot. Equal Partners in Faith released a statement saying, "Although this is a great step forward for gays and lesbians, this is only the beginning; work to include 'gender identity' in all anti-discrimination and civil rights laws must continue until all people are free from discrimination."

Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

In the November 14 issue of The Hilland the November 15 issue of Roll Call, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) purchased advertisements reminding readers that since 1977, abortion providers have suffered 7 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 165 arsons, 948 acts of vandalism, 557 anthrax threats, 122 assaults, 343 death threats, and 3 kidnappings. "Like other extremists who cloak themselves in religion, anti-abortion zealots are certain God wants them to terrorize and even kill for their beliefs," said RCRC President Rev. Carlton W. Veazey. "Tragically, America is now feeling the kind of fear abortion providers and women have long known."

Florida Choose Life License Plates

A Florida Circuit Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit by the National Organization for Women and a Palm Beach synagogue who argued that "Choose Life" license plates have a phrase from Deuteronomy that is "inextricably linked to the anti-abortion movement" and is in conflict with the separation of church and state. The judge said the plaintiffs "failed to prove there were any constitutional flaws" with the tags; an appeal is in the offing.

The license plates are supported by a group called Choose Life, Inc. Sales by the state have raised $688,280 for groups that support adoption programs and are not involved or associated with abortion activities, including counseling for or referrals to abortion clinics, providing medical abortion-related procedures, or "pro-abortion" advertising. Seventy percent of the funds received must be used to provide for the material needs of pregnant women. The remaining 30% can be spent on other activities, including advertising.

The Constitution Again

Rep. Ernest Istook has announced a third attempt to change the text of the Constitution and the balance between the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment. Istook's proposed Amendment reportedly says: "To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: Neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. Neither the United States nor any State shall require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, or prescribe school prayers."

Rev. Barry Lynn, of Americans United, said the proposed change "would bring sweeping changes to the church-state landscape and alter the First Amendment for the first time in American history. Among the likely consequences are coercive school-sponsored prayer in public school classrooms, government endorsement of religious texts on public property and divisiveness among religious groups as they are forced to compete with one another for government recognition."

condoms4life.org

On November 30, Catholics For A Free Choice (CFFC) launched worldwide ad campaign focused on the web site condoms4life.org. Billboards and ads in subways, on bus shelters and in newspapers say: "Catholic people care. Do our bishops? Banning Condoms Kills." This public education effort is aimed at Catholics and non-Catholics alike to raise awareness of the effect of the bishops' ban on condoms. The web site invites people to contact policy makers and express support for condom availability and a concern that the bishops not undermine responsible HIV/AIDS public health policy. "The Vatican and the world's bishops bear significant responsibility for the death of thousands of people who have died from AIDS," said Frances Kissling, president of CFFC. "For individuals who follow the Vatican policy and Catholic health care providers who are forced to deny condoms, the bishops' ban is a disaster. Real people are dying from AIDS. Real bishops are silently acquiescent. We can no longer stand by and allow the ban to go unchallenged."


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