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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
December 2003/January 2004

Marriage in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 that denying equal marriage rights to same-gender couples violates the state constitution, but it gave the legislature 180 days to act. A Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts residents "indicated that 50 percent agreed with the justices' decision, and 38 percent oppose it. Eleven percent expressed no opinion." A Christian Science Monitor article said, "The ruling means that the cultural divide over one of the most contentious issues in America will likely only deepen from here." Seven years ago no major media outlet even recognized that there was contention or a divide. Newspapers are treating the ruling more as a political issue than a religious one, though at times it's difficult to tell the difference. In a Rocky Mountain News article, a state legislator said, "Ultimately, the principles of marriage are much bigger than our nation's laws and mores. We are really no more capable of actually redefining marriage than we are of changing the laws of gravity." An AP story quoted a congressman who called the ruling "just one more assault on the Judeo-Christian values of our nation." Many papers around the country ran quotes from their state's attorneys general assuring the public that Massachusetts' marriages would be recognized in their states.

The Boston Globe and Cape Cod Times both reported mixed religious reaction to the ruling. The Globe reported an overwhelmingly positive reaction at First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Milton, "which has been performing marriages for 325 years" and "same-sex union ceremonies for several years and will probably perform marriages once the law is clarified." Negative reactions were reported at New Covenant Christian Church in Mattapan, where Bishop Gilbert Thompson said, "We are standing against demonic forces that are out to destroy not only marriage, but family. We are not against any person, but certainly we stand in favor of marriage being what it actually is - the union of a man and a woman."

The Federal Marriage Amendment, which would remove all legal recognition and protection of same-gender and transgender couples and their families has now been introduced in both the House and Senate. Please call your Representative and Senators now, and ask us for as many free copies of "Religious Support for Equal Marriage Rights" as you think you can give away.

Schools, Gender and Orientation: Wyoming

Two female Big Piney High School students (Big Piney, WY) were denied access to the school's homecoming dance by sheriff's deputies at the principal's request, according to AP and PlanetOut reports. School officials who told the girls that same-sex dates at dances aren't allowed have been contacted by the ACLU, the IWG, and likely many others. According to the AP story, it has been announced that there will be no more dances in the district. The two students identify as heterosexual.

Schools, Gender and Orientation: Louisiana

A seven-year-old at Ernest Gallet Elementary School in Youngsville, LA was punished for telling another student who asked why he had two mothers that they were gay. His class was told that "gay" is a bad word, and he was forced to write down that it was a bad word. An ACLU press release quoted one of the mothers: "I was concerned when the assistant principal called and told me my son had said a word so bad that he didn't want to repeat it over the phone. But that was nothing compared to the shock I felt when my little boy came home and told me that his teacher had told him his family is a dirty word. No child should ever hear that, especially not from a teacher he trusted and respected."

Schools, Gender and Orientation: Florida

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and Jupiter Courier have been reporting on an ongoing legal dispute between Jupiter Christian School (JCS) and the mother of an expelled gay senior. The mother claims her son was expelled for being gay and was outed by school officials; the school denies both claims. JCS accepts public voucher money. There is an article from the principal on the web site about the case; it includes a list of local and national media outlets that covered the story and a long section entitled, "So What Does Jupiter Christian School Believe About Homosexuality?" which the Sun-Sentinel quoted in their article. The principal mentions "bad choices," "conduct that does not meet the expectations and standards of the school," and "a lifestyle that is not condoned by the school." He says, "Christ can save us from the power of all sin, even homosexuality," and he claims the school is not "anti-gay or anti-homosexual. If we are anything we are anti-sin and that's because we are pro-Christ."

An article in the Palm Beach Post quoted the executive director of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools: "Christian schools do not have to compromise their biblical standards to accept a child on a voucher." A Courier article said the Palm Beach County Human Rights Chairman "has dealt with a 'dozen' identical issues regarding gay students and private schools over the last two years." A Post columnist wrote "If Woodard was expelled because he is gay, his dismissal is the kind of heavy-handed discipline that makes the school a kindred spirit with religious zealotry, Christian and others, that is willing to destroy people in the name of a loving God." A Post editorial concluded, "Regardless of how the courts sort out the issue, the Legislature and the religious schools should opt for the obvious solution: separation of church and state. When government supports religious schools, both are corrupted."

Schools, Gender and Orientation: Colorado

The Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Baptist Press (ABP) reported on a policy change at Silver State Baptist School in Lakewood, CO to be allowed to accept voucher students. A school policy had listed "pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and sexual perversion" as reasons for automatic dismissal. The inclusion of "homosexuality" was called "promotion of hatred" by the Denver School Board and is grounds for denying voucher eligibility; the school rewrote the sentence to say that "premarital sex and sexual perversion, between opposite and/or same sex students will constitute grounds for disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion." With the change the school board decided that the policy was no longer hateful and approved the school for vouchers. Of course there is no guarantee that "sexual perversion" will not be defined by the school to include displays of affection between people of the same gender.

The Rocky Mountain News article made no mention of the church-state-entanglement issues and said the principal told the school board, "We teach our children to love one another, regardless of differences among them. That also means we love all children who enter our doors even as we set standards for their behavior." The ABP article began, "A theoretical problem that school-voucher advocates and opponents have argued about for years may have become reality in Denver," and reported that the principal said in a phone interview that the policy's "thrust" had not changed, and the board is "evaluating our policy to make sure that it is strongly, clearly written to present a biblical position."

In earlier AP and Rocky Mountain News articles, the principal had vowed to appeal the ruling and stated that "if an openly homosexual person did enroll, he or she would be counseled about Biblical teaching on same-sex relationships before a decision is made on whether to expel them," and, "I would say we would treat it like other students caught with a smoking problem." The Rocky Mountain News editorialized against the policy but for their right to accept voucher money with it intact.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops accepted a statement entitled, "Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions" to be distributed as a pamphlet to U.S. parishes. The statement says, "These truths about marriage are present in the order of nature and can be perceived by the light of human reason. They have been confirmed by divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture," and, "Participation in the political process is a moral obligation. This is particularly urgent in light of the need to defend marriage and to oppose the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages."

The Washington Post quoted Auxiliary Miami Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, who complained that the statement doesn't mention sin. In a Soulforce press release, communications director Laura Montgomery Rutt said the document "is not only discriminatory, harmful, and confusing, it is a thinly veiled attempt to influence Catholics to support the proposed anti-family Federal Marriage Amendment by inserting their politics into a religious document. Although the Catholic Church is free to discriminate against whomever they choose, the U.S government has a higher obligation to Americans to ensure equal rights and protections to all individuals, couples, and families - to do less is not only discriminatory, it is anti-family and un-American." The Boston Globe quoted Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley: "We have failed to perhaps articulate our doctrine clear enough. We want homosexuals to be part of the community, but we can't change the Ten Commandments for them."

Up to forty Soulforce volunteers stood vigil outside the Hyatt Regency during most of the conference, with a banner saying Stop the unholy crusade against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. After being told that anyone wearing a rainbow cross would not be served the Eucharist at the Bishops' Mass, Soulforce passed out rainbow crosses to those entering the mass with a note explaining that they would not be served. Some went forward with crosses and were refused; some went forward without crosses and refused the Eucharist.

Pew Survey

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released Religious Beliefs Underpin Opposition to Homosexuality. Subtitles include "Opposition to Gay Marriage Grows Among Faithful." Despite problematic language in the report, the numbers are worth reading. An unsurprising quote: "...55% of evangelicals who attend services where the issue of homosexuality is addressed have very unfavorable views of homosexuals. This compares with 28% of those who regularly attend services in non-evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches where clergy discuss homosexuality... evangelicals who hear sermons on this issue are much more apt than others to believe that gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation and to view homosexuality as a threat to the country."

Church Attacked in Seattle

Following an October wedding for two men, All Pilgrims Christian Church, a Seattle UCC/Disciples congregation, was invaded by people calling themselves "Deliverance Unlimited." According to a Seattle Gay News article, they told Rev. Mark Travis they were there to cleanse the church of its sins, insulted Travis and his staff, sprayed and wiped oil on furniture and walls, attempted to enter the reception, tore down decorations, threw chairs, pounded on the organ and piano, and tried to tear down the cross in the sanctuary. Two were charged with malicious harassment and held on $20,000 bail. The attackers' pastor has agreed to meet with the co-pastors of All Pilgrims to discuss the incident.

Reactions to the Massachusetts Ruling

The Rev. Troy Perry said, "Metropolitan Community Churches, which performs more than 6000 same-sex weddings each year, celebrates today's decision and re-affirms its work to assure that equality under the law is provided to all citizens."

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property asked their members to "do some prayer or act of reparation for what was done. We feel God was greatly offended by this public recognition of sodomy and so we are asking for prayers and sacrifices."

Americans Unitedís Rev. Barry Lynn: "Religious Right groups will no doubt try to spread hysteria about the decision, and I hope the American people firmly reject their overheated appeals to intolerance and divisiveness."

The Family Research Councilís Tony Perkin wants a Constitutional amendment to "stop a tyrannical judiciary from redefining marriage to the point of extinction."

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Mark J. Pelavin called the decision "a landmark step toward ensuring the right of gay and lesbian Americans to share in the joys, and privileges, of marriage afforded heterosexual Americans. As the Court rightly noted, 'Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family - these are among the most basic of every individual's liberty and due process rights.' These rights belong to same sex couples just as much as to heterosexual couples."

Liberty Counsel's Matthew Stover: "The goal of the radical homosexual agenda is to eliminate any and all laws that uphold traditional family values."

The Family Pride Coalition's Aimee Gelnaw: "We are elated that the State Supreme Court of Massachusetts has chosen to rule for fairness and equality for all its citizens. Too many American families have been left at risk because they have been denied the legal protections that come with civil marriage. It is clear that states can no longer accept legal systems that deny basic protections to gay and lesbian couples and their children."

Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Conventionís Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a Kansas City Declaration on Marriage on Nov. 2, claiming: "Any weakening of the traditional, Judeo-Christian definition of marriage will undermine the foundation of Western culture and result in deep, permanent fractures that will fundamentally alter American culture, indeed all of Western civilization." The statement calls for "The immediate passage of a Federal Marriage Amendment that will place in the U.S. Constitution the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman; the strengthening of marriage laws in all states that will emphasize the covenant nature of marriage; the restriction of marriage by every state to the union of one man and one woman, including civil unions or any other marriage-like union; [and] the abolition of no-fault divorce." A Nov. 5 AP story about the SBC and the pending release of the statement quoted the ERLC's Richard Land: "The homosexual activists are out to normalize and affirm their lifestyle and to marginalize those of us who believe it's unnatural and unholy. When we get attacked, we fight back. They want a war for the high ground of this culture, they got it, and we intend to win it."









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