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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
April 2004


The Marriage Revolution Continues

The Massachusetts legislature held a Constitutional Convention on March 11, adjourning until March 29 without agreeing on an amendment to take civil marriage rights away from same-gender couples, but with an agreement to debate an amendment that would replace civil marriage for same-gender couples with civil unions. Most observers believed this amendment would be further amended or replaced, but on the 29th it was rapidly pushed through with a margin of five votes, and will be voted on again by the next legislature in 2005, and if it passes then it will go on the ballot in 2006. However, barring further legal action or refusal by the Governor, the state will start issuing marriage licenses on May 17.

On March 11 California’s Supreme Court voted unanimously to order San Francisco to stop issuing marriage licenses until a court case can be heard. Thousands of couples have been married since February 12.

New York City’s Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, founder of Kolot Chayeinu, and Rev. Pat Bumgardner, of Metropolitan Community Church of New York, performed marriages for three same-gender couples on the steps of New York's City Hall on March 18 in solidarity with the Revs. Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey, Unitarian Universalist ministers who were charged by the local DA on March 15 for performing civil marriage ceremonies in New Paltz, NY. The ministers had taken over from the mayor of New Paltz. who was under a court order to stop performing same-gender marriages. Another twenty-five couples were married in New Paltz on March 20, this time by six Unitarian Universalist ministers: Rev. Greenleaf and the Revs. Charles Bluestien-Ortman, Barbara Fast, Debra Haffner, Katherine Hepler and Carol Huston.

Quebec joined Ontario and British Columbia on March 19 as the third Canadian province with legal marriage for same-gender couples.

The Benton County (OR) Board of Commissioners, acting on a request from the Governor not to start issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples on March 24 as they had originally voted to do on March 17, decided instead to completely stop issuing all marriage licenses to couples, regardless of gender. Benton County was originally following the lead of Multnomah County (Portland) whose County Commissioners announced March 15 that they would continue to issue licenses to same-gender couples, despite an opinion from the Oregon Attorney General that the practice was illegal but that the law was probably unconstitutional. Over 2,000 couples have received licenses in Multnomah County since March 3.

Report from Boston

IWG Co-coordinator Chris Purdom was in Boston with the National Religious Leadership Roundtable for GLBT Equality before and during the March 11 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention.

On March 9 the Roundtable and Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM, over 500 religious leaders and congregations in Massachusetts) held an interfaith service at Emmanuel Church, Boston. Following an opening prayer from Dhumavati of Kashi Ashram remarks were delivered by Rabbi Devon Lerner, RCFM co-chair; former United Methodist Minister Jimmy Creech, Soulforce co-chair, defrocked for presiding at weddings of same-gender couples; and state Rep. Byron Rushing, an African-American Episcopalian, who reminded the audience that GLBT people were part of a long tradition of marginalized and oppressed groups who read "We the people" and said "we are in the we."

On March 10 clergy from Massachusetts visited their legislators at the State House to talk about marriage, accompanied by visitors from the Roundtable. The side of the building housing the Unitarian Universalist Association office on Beacon Hill, next to the State House and very visible from it, was festooned with rainbow flags and a giant banner reading, "Civil Marriage is a Civil Right." That evening an estimated 1,000 people joined in a candlelight vigil on the State House steps, across Beacon Street, and down into Boston Common.

On the day of the convention hundreds of demonstrators both for and against amending the state Constitution began to gather on both sides of Beacon Street in front of the State House well before the Convention was to open at 2 pm. There was no attempt by the police to separate the crowd into factions so people of many different views were mixed together on the sidewalk on both sides of the street, and throughout the day there were heated conversations, confrontations and competing chants. A large group of opponents of equal marriage rights established themselves in front of the unused main gate and hoisted a bright orange "Jesus is Lord" sign over it. Many of them were carrying large signs that said "Gay ‘Marriage’ No. Jesus Yes. Gay ‘Civil Unions’ No." and periodically chanted "Jesus" over and over (to which others in the crowd responded by chanting "loves queers" after each "Jesus.") Several pro-GLBT folks carrying rainbow flags mixed themselves in among this group, leading to some rather confusing photographs and captions in the media.

In the afternoon they were joined by a man dressed as Jesus, including long white robes, a plastic crown of thorns and, around his neck, small signs reading Do unto others and Discrimination in the Constitution? He stood with arms out, looking up and repeating quietly, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."

Quite a few children carried hand-drawn red-white-and-blue signs that said things like Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, and some people held neon-yellow signs with diagrams of their understanding of marriage including drawings of men, women and children with arrows and labels. Wandering through the crowd were several anti-GLBT individuals who have been showing up at events across the country carrying signs like God Abhors You, HomoSexIsSin.com, Got AIDS Yet? and Homosexuals are possessed by demons. There were very few positive religious signs in evidence other than those for the IWG and RCFM, but one person was carrying a poster that said, "Jesus hates bad signage."

Inside the State House opponents of any amendment stood across a large open stairwell and the gathering point for the media from the Assembly chambers singing The Star Spangle Banner, God Bless America, America the Beautiful and We Shall Not Be Moved loud enough to be heard by the legislators debating inside from before they arrived until after they left around midnight.

Possible Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

On March 22 the Federal Marriage Amendment was rewritten. The new version enforces the legal superiority of mixed-gender relationships even more clearly than the previous version. The ACLU’s Christopher E. Anders says, "The new proposal would still write discrimination into the Constitution, deny all states the right to decide who can get married in their states, preempt the state constitutions of the fifty states, prohibit such important court decisions as the Vermont civil union decision and the Oregon domestic partnership decision, and potentially jeopardize a wide array of other rights provided to gay and lesbian couples and their children." Concerned Women for America (CWA) notes that the new language permits the courts to award benefits to unmarried mixed-gender couples but not unmarried same-gender couples. CWA has a competing proposal called "The Institution of Marriage Amendment" that does exactly the same thing as the original Federal Marriage Amendment but with different wording.

The Family Research Council claims that two senators are circulating a third amendment: "Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any other union than that of a man and a woman."

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

On March 16 the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association adopted the following resolution In Support of Civil Marriage for Same-Sex Couples:

WHEREAS today same-sex couples face opposition to the right to civil marriage in the United States, and;

WHEREAS same-sex couples are regularly denied access to the benefits automatically bestowed by civil marriage including, among others, health care coverage and related decision-making, privileges under immigration and naturalization law, inheritance rights, survivor benefits and child custody, and;

WHEREAS legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships will provide these men and women and their families with these benefits, as well as providing them the respect they are currently denied, and;

WHEREAS we deem it imperative that progressive religious voices be raised in support of the equality that is currently denied to gay men and lesbians, and in opposition to attempts to present re-ligious traditions in general, and Jewish tradition in particular, as being uniformly opposed to equality for gay men and lesbians; and

WHEREAS the Reconstructionist movement has a twenty-year history of advocating the inclusion and equality of gay men and lesbians in Jewish life;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association endorses and supports the right of same-sex couples to share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitments of civil marriage.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the RRA supports legislation and legal action that will secure civil marriage for same-sex couples. The RRA asserts that civil marriages for same-sex couples must include all the benefits commonly bestowed upon opposite-sex couples, including, among other rights, healthcare coverage and related decision-making, privileges under immigration and naturalization law, survivor benefits, inheritance rights, and child custody.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the RRA opposes all efforts to ban civil marriage for gay men and lesbian women.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the RRA endorses the Marriage Resolution of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which reads:

"Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice, resolved, the State should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitments of civil marriage."

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the RRA calls upon its members to:

Encourage the congregations, agencies, organizations, and institutions in which they serve to extend benefits to same-sex partners of staff members and employees.

Monitor local and regional developments and consider ways of advocating for same-sex civil marriage in their communities.

Offer tzedakah donations to organizations advocating for civil rights for same-sex couples.

Use pre-marital counseling with heterosexual couples as an opportunity to discuss the issue of equal rights for same-sex couples.

Speak about the issue of civil marriage for same-sex couples from the bimah, in agencies and organizations and institutions, in institutional newsletter articles, and in other settings, particularly at times when public attention is turned to gay and lesbian inclusivity, for example, on GLBT Pride weekends, Right To Marriage Day, Coming Out Day. [continued next column]

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the RRA prepare "talking points" in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples. Such talk-ing points should raise issues of religious liberty as well as econom-ic and political justice, and be distributed to members of the RRA, who are encouraged to contribute letters to the editor, opinion columns and other public statements in support of civil marriage for gay and lesbian people.

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York's Gay and Lesbian synagogue, in cooperation with Marriage Equality NY, has called upon clergy in New York State to declare that that they have, or would, officiate at religious weddings for same-sex couples knowing that doing so is illegal according to certain interpretations of New York State marriage law

American Friend Service Committee Minute

The American Friends Service Committee has approved the following minute:

We minute our support for equal civil marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We are aware that many are calling for civil unions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and some people wish to reserve civil marriage for heterosexual couples alone. It is our belief that government sanction should be applied equally. All couples should be granted civil union licenses or all should be granted marriage licenses. In doing so, we are careful to distinguish between civil law, in which no single religious view should predominate, and the right of various faith traditions, denominations, and congregations to decide for themselves whether they will perform, support, or recognize the marriages of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Similarly, we wish to distinguish between the necessity for equality in the matter of civil law and coercive governmental "marriage promotion" policies that seek to enforce only one standard of worthiness for people who receive government assistance. We uphold equality in civil law and the principle of free choice in the matter of marriage while rejecting the idea that the worthiness of persons and families is determined by marital status.

United Methodist Church

Rev. Karen Dammann, recently legally married in Portland, OR to Meredith Savage, her partner of nine years, has been acquitted by a church jury of her peers on charges of being an open lesbian. Nine of the thirteen jurors would have had to vote guilty for a conviction. Two of the jurors were undecided and the rest voted not guilty. The charges against her were originally dismissed by the investigating committee, but the UMC's highest court ultimately ruled that she should be tried. Prior to the trial, thirty-three of one hundred Soulforce protestors were arrested blocking the doors to the church while attempting to prevent the officiating Bishops from entering and to persuade them not to hold the trial Soulforce will also be at the UMC General Conference in Pittsburgh, May 5-8.

In a reaction to the trial verdict the anti-GLBT Confessing Movement issued a statement which concluded: "Perhaps delegates to this General Conference should consider a way where those in the Western Jurisdiction--and the rest of the Church for that matter--who are not willing to keep and live by the covenants of the Church, have a way to amicably depart from the denomination with their property and clergy retirement benefits secured. There is no way that committed orthodox Christians can keep fellowship with those who would undermine and destroy the historical faith and moral teaching on human sexuality."

A formal complaint has been filed against Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor of San Francisco’s Bethany United Methodist Church, for officiating at the marriages of seven couples at City Hall and one couple in the church. The church's web site includes a "Gay Wedding Photo Album."

On March 14 the Tri-Valley Herald of Pleasanton, CA reported on remarks delivered by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders to a Western Jurisdiction meeting of United Methodist Women in Oakland: "I see no problem with gay couples marrying. It's a decision between two people--the government has no business interfering. I remember when it was against the law for blacks and whites to be married--and that wasn’t very long ago. The same people who are fighting gay marriage fought black and white marriage and fought school integration."



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