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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
March 2003


MCC Marriage Protests

Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, applied for a marriage license with his partner in Los Angeles on February 14, and encouraged other MCC clergy and members to follow suit at local courthouses and city halls and to inform the media. These protests were an overwhelming media success, with mostly positive pre- and post-event local and national coverage. Most reporters' explanations for the protests were very good, though many stories did not accurately distinguish marriage, Vermont civil unions, and California domestic partnerships.

The Omaha World Herald ran an advance story about a planned3 protest by six couples, saying it would be led by "the Rev. Barbara Sagat, pastor of Omaha's Metropolitan Community Church, and her partner, the Rev. Sharon Stover, pastor of the Sioux Falls, SD church." The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader, MSNBC and KELO-TV (Sioux Falls) also had advance stories about them. KELO-TV was one of the few media outlets to seek out an anti-gay opinion (a representative from the Family Policy Council), who said the women "have every right to go out and find a man to get married to." Detroit News columnist Deb Price's February 10 column featured Rev. Perry's action, and encouraged readers to participate. The Easton, PA Express-Times ran an excellent story on February 6 about six gay and lesbian couples married in a ceremony by Elizabeth Goudy of MCC of the Lehigh Valley; unfortunately the reporter or editor put quotes around the word "married." According to the article, thirty-two other couples received a blessing from "clergy and spiritual leaders representing the United Church of Christ, Mennonite, Methodist, Unitarian, Reconstructionist Synagogue and the Lenni Lenape."

The Express-Times of Easton and the Allentown Morning Call covered two couples at the Easton courthouse. The Morning Call quoted Rev. Goudy: "Marriage is everything. It's all about insurance, home ownership, child custody, inheritance, hospital issues, immigration rights. It all comes with marriage. This was one small step for justice." They also quoted the Urban Family Council's Bill Devlin, who said the group is not homophobic or anti-gay, but that, "When gay and lesbian couples storm the bastille of the local courthouse, it's a bad idea because they are ramming their political ideals down the throat of ordinary people. They will continue to beat at the door, with the help of Hollywood and the media, but it'll be done - at great consequence."

The Gay People's Chronicle (Cleveland, OH) reported that at least three couples went to Ohio courthouses, and quoted the Rev. Edwin Yates, a former IWG supporter and pastor of A New Life MCC in Toledo.

The AP reported from Hartford, CT on the protest by the Rev. George Chien, of MCC of Hartford, and his partner, Julio Flores, tying the story to the three pending bills before the Connecticut legislature [see article]. The New York Times covered the Rev. Chien in Hartford and the Rev. Perry in Los Angeles. Other reports about local couples ran in the Hartford Courant, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Omaha World-Herald, Pueblo Chieftan, The Chronicle (Willimantic, CT), the Norwich (CT) Bulletin, the New Haven Register, the Oakland Tribune, and the Marshfield (WI) News-Herald, and on KETV Omaha.

Most newspapers printed quotes from county clerks. The quote in the Omaha World-Herald, "We think this is a state issue. The marriage license laws are governed by state statute, and that's what our office follows," was typical. But a Davis (CA) Enterprise article about a protest in Yolo County sponsored by Marriage Equality California noted that the Clerk-Recorder said to each couple, "Under section 500 of the California Family Code, I am not authorized to issue a license for marriage to same-sex couples. I personally do not see any governmental purpose that is served by that, and it hurts my heart to have to tell you no."

Eucharist Trial Verdict

The three gay Roman Catholics arrested in November 2002 at the Hyatt Regency on Washington's Capitol Hill during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were found guilty of the criminal misdemeanor of unlawful entry after a two-day bench trial with Judge Mildred Edwards in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. However, Edwards refused to order them to stay away from the Hyatt in the future, and declared the complete suspension of the imposition of sentence. They could have received six months in jail and a fine of $350.

The lead defense witness was Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Ken Einhaus, Kara Speltz and Mike Perez, the defendants, had been denied the Eucharist during the Bishops' Mass on November 11, 2002 at the National Shrine, for no apparent reason. They entered the lobby of the hotel the next day to ask any bishop present to serve them, but no one came forward. Bishop Gumbleton testified that he was at the Hyatt and was leaving the meeting during lunch recess when he saw the police arresting the defendants in the lobby; he was unable to approach them because of the police. "This experience reinforces my opinion about how important it is that the Catholic Church reach out to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," Gumbleton said after his testimony.

According to Soulforce, Judge Edwards ordered the defendants to pay $50 each to the Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Fund. "Terrible violence was done to you when the body of Christ was denied to you," said Judge Edwards. "You are in solidarity with all victims of violence. I am terribly sorry for what happened to you. As a member of the Church, I ask you to forgive our Church. There is no way I am going to order you away from the Hyatt. You can engage in peaceful demonstration as long as it is law abiding. Go in Peace."

"This verdict gives me hope that the desire of people of the church for justice and healing will prevail over the church leaders who misuse authority to control and silence us," said Ken Einhaus. "This is a great victory for the three of us as faithful gay Catholics, and for all those who love God and seek healing for the wounds the Church has inflicted upon gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people." The Catholic League issued a statement that was distributed by the Traditional Values Coalition, saying that Edwards is anti-Catholic; it did not mention Gumbleton's testimony. The trial was covered by the Washington Post and National Catholic Reporter.

Connecticut Marriage Legislation

Connecticut's legislature is considering three pieces of marriage-related legislation: a bill removing gender discrimination from existing marriage laws, a civil union law like Vermont's and a "Defense of Marriage Act."

The New Britain Herald reported on competing demonstrations between "gay rights activists and their conservative religious opponents," singling out the Rev. Susan Heiskell of MCC of New Haven and the Rev. Pat Gallagher, a "happily married Episcopal priest" on the pro-gay side, and Rabbi Daniel Greer of Yeshiva of New Haven and Bishop Richard Gatling of Hartford's Jackson Memorial Church of God in Christ on the anti-gay side. The Hartford Courant quoted Rabbi Greer and the Rev. George Chien of MCC Hartford. The Waterbury Republican-American quoted a member of the Knights of Columbus, who called marriage for same-gender couples an "attack on freedom, justice, peace, and the future of the family." While the article mentioned that supporters had a binder with pro-marriage narratives from "Jews and Christians, Catholics, and Protestants," no religious pro-marriage advocates were quoted. One woman quoted in both the Republican-American and the AP said, "The old religious values don't apply as far as I'm concerned anymore. This is not a religious issue. It's a civil rights issue." The AP identified the woman as a Catholic; the Republican-American did not. The AP also quoted Rabbi Greer and the Knights of Columbus member.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

A Cincinnati Presbytery investigating committee has voted to file charges against Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian for not discriminating on the basis of orientation in ordination and gender in marriage. These are the first complaints by Paul Rolf Jensen to result in a recommendation of charges. Jensen has filed complaints against more than twenty ordained Presbyterians nationwide. A trial date has not been announced.

The Washington, PA Observer-Reporter interviewed two local Presbyterian ministers, Rev. Craig Kephart, who signed the petition for a special meeting of the General Assembly, and Rev. Dr. Robert Campbell, who called the proposal "an absolute abomination, a total waste of the church's money," and also said, "I believe that we are not clear on what Scripture says about these issues, given present information. I believe this is a 'hot-button issue' that is not an essential in matters of faith."

More Light Presbyterians announced that Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church (Pearl River, NY) became the 112th More Light congregation on January 26.

Unitarian Universalist Marriage Protests

The Rev. Fred Small, First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA announced Feb. 2 that he will continue to perform religious marriage ceremonies, but will no longer sign licenses for the state. He received a standing ovation from the congregation after the announcement. His decision was reported in the Littleton Independent, the Boston Globe, and by WCBV Boston in a story about the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported on February 19 that the Rev. F. Jay Deacon of the 500-member Unitarian Universalist Society of Northampton and Florence (MA) announced that he will not sign marriage licenses either, saying, "I will not be an agent of the state that withholds from same-sex couples the array of rights and privileges it extends to heterosexual couples." He is also quoted referring to the current system as "a strange and most inappropriate wedding of church and state." The paper reported that his congregation also applauded.

United Methodist Church

The Western Judicial Committee on Appeals upheld a decision to dismiss a complaint against the Rev. Karen Dammen for violating church law against "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" serving as ministers, according to the Seattle Times, which had a quote from Dammen saying, "Meredith and I are thrilled and happy."

Baptist News

The Nashville Tennessean ran an extensive article about the Rev. April Baker, a lesbian Southern Baptist minister hired by the Glendale Baptist Church in Green Hills, TN as an associate pastor for children and families. The article noted that the congregation would likely be disfellowshipped by the Southern Baptist Convention and that ordination of gays and lesbians "has been the cause of vigorous debate in denominations more liberal than the Southern Baptists."

The Kansas City Star reported on a debate at Baptist-affiliated William Jewell College over whether to add sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination clause of the student bill of rights. The paper said the Missouri Baptist Convention has "criticized the debate and inaction by the college administration to quash it."

On February 2, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Fusion Baptist Church, a new American Baptist congregation in Center City sponsored by Drexel Hill Baptist and created specifically for the GLBT community and those who love them. Fusion Baptist worships at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion.

Marriage Opinion from Rabbi Howard Berman

The Cape Cod Times printed a long marriage opinion piece from Rabbi Howard Berman, rabbi emeritus of Chicago Sinai Congregation, which said in part:

"We, too, can quote chapter and verse of Leviticus, which calls us to 'proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof!' However, while we affirm that the Biblical spirit has indeed inspired America from its earliest beginnings, in the end, it must be the Constitution - and not a particular reading of the Bible - that dictates the laws of this nation. When it comes to the civil rights of all the citizens of the United States, the ultimate documents of authority mandate that all people 'are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights - that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"

Love Welcomes All in Austin

The Austin American-Statesman ran three stories about the upcoming Love Won Out and Love Welcomes All conferences in Austin, the second city in which Focus on the Family's anti-gay, pro-ex-gay Love Won Out conferences have been countered with a pro-GLBT conference put on by welcoming congregations. The strategy has resulted in much more GLBT-positive reporting in cities where the conferences have been held.

Letterhead

The Rev. Bonnie Casey, a long-time IWG supporter, has left the area and is no longer on the letterhead. We can always fit more clergy, congregations, and religious organizations. If you are in Eastern or Central PA, South Jersey, or Delaware, call or send email if you would like to be listed. Please provide a way to confirm your identity when you contact us.

Soulforce Philadelphia

Soulforce Philadelphia is the twentieth local affiliated group licensed by Soulforce, Inc. For more information visit www.soulforce.org, call Kathy Stayton at 610-647-9616, or email webpoet@aol.com.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

An ELCA News Service Story titled "ELCA Task Force Wants Church to Talk About Sexuality" quoted Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hansen, who said "the vast majority of the church has chosen not to be involved in this work," and that the church needed to "take the moment, as uncomfortable as it is."

InnerChange Freedom Initiative

Americans United has filed federal lawsuits against a government-backed program seeking to rehabilitate Iowa prison inmates by converting them to fundamentalist Christianity. The suits charge that InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a program run by Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship, constitutes a merger of government with religion. The program is currently in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Texas; a similar program is being considered for federal prisons. Program materials describe it as "a revolutionary, Christ-centered, values-based pre-release program supporting prison inmates through their spiritual and moral transformation." The director of operations has said the mission is to "save souls for Christ." All employees must be Christians willing to sign a statement of faith. Inmates in the program have keys to their cells, access to private bathrooms, big-screen televisions, computers and art supplies. They may make free telephone calls to family members. These benefits are not extended to general-population inmates and are partially funded by overcharging the general population inmates for phone calls. Housing for the program is completely subsidized with public funds.



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