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


Civil Marriage Update

Letters, columns, and editorials for and against equal marriage rights have been appearing in publications throughout the country over the last two months, accompanied by a number of polls that have produced wildly varying results depending on the wording and the group being polled.

The Portsmouth (NH) Herald reported that the clergy of South Church, a Portsmouth Unitarian Universalist congregation, will sign licenses for mixed-gender and same-gender couples and send all licenses to City Hall. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jan. 10 religion column mentioned the small but growing movement of primarily UU clergy who have stopped signing marriage licenses and quoted local participants Rev. Elizabeth McMaster, interim minister, Mt. Airy's UU Church of the Restoration, and IWG supporter Rev. Melanie M. Sullivan, of the UU Church in Cherry Hill.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston issued a statement favoring equal marriage rights [see article]. Massachusetts' four Roman Catholic bishops announced a one-million household direct mailing in favor of a state constitutional amendment.

On January 9 Focus on the Family reported that a poll commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage showed that 69% of those polled wanted to vote on "whether the state should issue marriage licenses to gay couples" and "fifty-two percent of respondents said they believe marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman." The same day the Boston Globe reported that only seven of the twenty questions in the poll had been included in the press release, that the results "actually showed Massachusetts voters deeply divided on whether to ban same-sex marriage," and that the Massachusetts Family Institute's Ron Crews "acknowledged that his group did not release the full survey results and apologized for down-playing the omitted questions as irrelevant." Despite the press release's claim that a majority of the voters would vote for an amendment to the state constitution, 48% of the respondents agreed that "marriage is such an important institution that it should be defined in the constitution as the union of a man and a woman" and 49% disagreed; 46% felt the legislature should block the Judicial Supreme Court ruling and 48% felt they should not; and thirty-six percent agreed with the ruling, twenty percent disagreed, and forty percent were not familiar with the Court.

The American Family Association ran a poll on their website with these choices: 1) I oppose legalization of homosexual marriage and "civil unions" 2) I favor legalization of homosexual marriage and 3) I favor a "civil union" with the full benefits of marriage except for the name. The web page read, "Results of this poll will be presented to Congress." As of January 22, option 2 had 59.45% of the vote, option 3 had 7.79%, and option 1, which the AFA obviously expected to win, had only 32.77%. According to a January 22 report in Wired News, despite the promise on the web page, the AFA has decided not to send the results to Congress after all. The Wired reporter opined "...the AFA and organizations like it will have to get used to the idea that if they want to use the Internet as a tool, they had better understand how it works."

The Traditional Values Coalition is trying to raise $4.5 million to pay for an ad campaign to get the Federal Marriage Amendment passed through Congress by the end of July. The sample ad on their web site shows a mixed-gender couple in white from the back with the superimposed text "One 'natural born' man. One 'natural born' woman. Support passage of a Constitutional Marriage Amendment." A December press release from the TVC characterized the equal marriage rights struggle: "On one side are traditionalists who believe that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman. On the other side are a minority of aggressive and vocal homosexuals and their allies in the media and in the courts who believe that marriage can be the union of two or more individuals who 'love' each other."

On December 16, the Boston Globe reported that Focus on the Family has purchased a "mailing database of every religious institution in Massachusetts" in order to send invitations to more than 4,000 clergy, inviting them to meetings focusing on "building a moral and spiritual hedge of protection around one's marriage and ministry," at which they will be receiving "strategy packets, free books, refreshments, and other resources" having to do with civil marriage law. The Christian Science Monitor ran an article headlined "Gay Marriage: Clergy gear for amendment battle," which said in part: "With the prospect of momentous, far-reaching change, Massachusetts clergy are lining up on both sides of the battle: While Colorado-based Focus on the Family has joined with the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) to energize conservative pastors, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry has marshaled 400 progressive clergy behind the court and in opposition to the amendment."

JCRC of Greater Boston

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston issued the following "Statement on Same-Sex Civil Marriage" on Jan. 14 regarding the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling in Goodridge v. Dept. of Health:

A fundamental principle of JCRC's mission is to promote "an American society which is democratic, pluralistic and just." Accordingly, we continue to stand firmly in support of both civil rights and the separation of church and state.

Legal recognition of same-sex civil marriages has been considered and decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as a matter of civil rights. Denying same-sex couples the right to enter into a civil marriage creates second-class citizen status, which is unacceptable in a just and democratic society. Under federal law and the law of 48 other states, over one thousand rights, responsibilities and privileges accrue to married couples and their families exclusively. Therefore, allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions but not civil marriage falls short of the goal of equality under the law for all. While adoption of same-sex civil marriage in Massachusetts will not, in and of itself, achieve this goal, it is a necessary first step.

We acknowledge and respect the diversity of views on this issue within the Greater Boston Jewish community. Both Jewish tradition and American values recognize the importance of differing opinions and lively debate and the need for all perspectives to be heard. JCRC's historic commitment to civil rights leads us to support the right of same-sex couples and their families to enjoy liberty and equal justice under law.

We affirm the distinction between civil and religious marriage. Legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage should not and will not require clergy of any faith or denomination to perform or recognize the religious status of same-sex marriages, consistent with the separation of church and state. Incorporating religious doctrine into legislation or the Massachusetts Constitution would erode the separation of church and state, a cherished value that ensures religious liberty of the Jewish community and for people of all faiths and beliefs.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED that the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston urges our elected officials to enact legislation providing for same-sex marriage, in accordance with the recent ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court in the Goodridge case.

Be it also RESOLVED that the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston opposes any effort to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying, or to deny legal benefits to same-sex couples and their families.

New Supporters

We are extremely pleased to announce the addition of our newest supporters to the letterhead, the Rev. Daniel S. Schatz of BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Rev. Dr. William R. Stayton, of the Widener University Human Sexuality Program. If you are a clergy person or the representative of a congregation or religious organization in Eastern or Central Pennsylvania, Delaware, or South Jersey, we are very interested in adding you or your organization to the list.

Roman Catholic Priests Protest

Twenty-three Roman Catholic priests in the Chicago area wrote a 770-word letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Bishop Wilton Gregory of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to Chicago Cardinal Francis George "regarding the pastoral care of gay and lesbian persons." Copies of the press release and letter are available on the web site of the SHEM Center for Interfaith Spirituality in Oak Park, IL, at www.stmaryofcelle.org/SMCweb/news/ and other sites. The story was covered by Reuters but was not picked up by many papers.

The letter begins, "As Catholic pastors, we have become increasingly disturbed by the tone and, in some cases, content of documents and statements from the Vatican, bishops' conferences and individual bishops on issues categorized under the heading of 'homosexual' or 'gay/lesbian.' We respect the teaching authority of the Church. Because of this, we find particularly troubling the increase in the use of violent and abusive language directed at any human person. Such language is inappropriate. This is especially so when addressing members of the community of the faithful. These divisive and exclusionary statements from the Church are contrary to sound pastoral practice. The life journey in faith is unique and sacred, including the personal integration of sexuality and spirituality."

It concludes, "We recognize the blessings of countless homosexuals in a variety of relationships. We believe their experiences must be listened to respectfully. While we do not know the reasons for the increasingly violent and abusive language, we deplore it as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ask that it stop immediately. Furthermore, we request that all those in official positions of teaching authority in the Church refrain from any more statements directed AT the gay and lesbian members of the Body of Christ, and instead begin an earnest dialogue WITH those same members of the Body of Christ. For our part, we pledge to treat all who seek to continue their faith journey with us with respect and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation. We join the countless men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, who seek justice, mercy and compassion in and through the Catholic Church. We extend an invitation all who share our concern to duplicate this letter, sign it, and send it to their pastor, local bishop, National Bishop's Conference or the Vatican."

On January 28 the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that thirty Rochester area priests had written and signed an almost identical letter.

Faith-Based Controversies

It has been widely reported that H. James Towey, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, when asked if Pagan groups would be eligible for government funding, said "I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work, and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it." According to a press release from Americans United, Rev. Barry Lynn wrote to Towey, asking him to apologize to members of the Pagan community and reaffirm his support for the principle that government will treat all religions equally.

Americans United reports that ten witnesses from Focus on the Family were scheduled to testify at a House of Representatives subcommittee Colorado Springs field hearing on faith-based initiatives. One of the scheduled witnesses was Mike Haley, who runs FoF's anti-gay, pro-ex-gay "Love Won Out" conferences.

Church and Park

In December Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release detailing church/state issues at the National Park Service. According to PEER, the Grand Canyon National Park was ordered to return three bronze plaques with Bible verses to public viewing areas on the South rim, to sell the creationist text "Grand Canyon: A different view" in park bookstores and museums, and to stop publishing guidance for park rangers that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis. The Park Service is fighting to keep an eight-foot cross on top of a thirty-foot rock in the Mojave National Preserve. And finally, the Park Service has received complaints about the inclusion of gay rights and pro-choice rallies in an eight minute video shown to visitors at the Lincoln Memorial, and may be considering replacing that footage with one of a Promise Keepers rally that did not actually occur at the memorial, though different news services have gotten different answers about the report that the footage would be cut.

New Jersey Domestic Partnership

New Jersey now has a statewide Domestic Partnership law. In an a pre-vote article entitled "Clergy argue Bible supports N.J. domestic-partnership bill," The Press of Atlantic City reported that "A group of 11 clergy members from various religious denominations dominated the testimony in support of New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act before an Assembly committee last week, relying on the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ to highlight their argument." The article included several quotes from the Rev. Linda Holzbaur, pastor of United Church of Christ Toms River. A post-signing article in the same paper had several positive quotes from the openly gay Rev. Kevin Tyler of Unity Fellowship Church New Brunswick. Articles in both the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times limited their religious quotes to the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which warned Senators that the bill was a "radical departure from the historical definition of marriage." Both papers editorialized in favor of the bill.

United Methodist Church

Rev. Karen Dammann will be standing trial for having publicly announced that she was in a committed relationship with another woman. The investigating committee from her annual conference had refused to charge her, but the denomination's highest court ruled that she must be charged. No trial date has been set. The UMC General Conference will be meeting in Pittsburgh, April 27 to May 7. Soulforce will be present at the General Conference from May 5 to 8.



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