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


Massachusetts Marriage

The May 17 issuance of gender-neutral marriage licenses to same-gender couples by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education was one of the biggest news stories in the nation and the world. The participation and support of religious organizations, congregations and clergy was well reported. Legal challenges still remain.

On the morning of May 17 the Boston Globe reported that 250 couples were granted licenses just after midnight at Cambridge City Hall while a crowd of 10,000 supporters stood outside (The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, which have been significantly less supportive of equal marriage rights, estimated the crowd at 1,000). The story was so big that the Globe assigned a reporter just to cover the other news organizations, including foreign press and the network news programs.

A BBC report (seen locally on WYBE) noted that one church in Boston was performing weddings every twenty minutes. A May 16 article in the Washington Post titled “Massachusetts Clergy Are Divided On Eve of Historic Same-Sex Unions” noted that the United Church of Christ would have “volunteers dispensing cookies, coffee and congratulations when gay couples arrive at municipal offices to apply for marriage licenses.” The Post also reported on an interfaith service called “Blessings on the Eve of History” at Cambridge’s Christ Church. The AP distributed a profile of Reconstructionist Rabbi Lisa Freitag-Keshet of Amherst, scheduled to marry her partner on May 30. The Philadelphia Inquirer actually had a staff writer in Boston who mentioned at the end of her May 16 article that, “the Universalist Association has been at the forefront of the push for same-sex marriage” and quoted the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the UUA, who officiated at the wedding of Julie and Hillary Goodridge (the lead plaintiffs in the marriage case) at UUA headquarters.

A dispute between the Governor and several town clerks over residency requirements has not yet been resolved. The Governor is insisting that the clerks enforce a 1913 law designed to prevent out-of-state couples of different skin colors from marrying in Massachusetts and returning to their home states. Some clerks have refused. The Senate has voted to repeal the law, but the House has not. The Governor has promised to veto a repeal and has collected licenses issued to out of state couples in the towns that refused to comply.

Eleven justices of the peace resigned rather than marry same-gender couples as part of their duties.

On June 7 the First Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a case brought by the Liberty Counsel that the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling was a violation of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a republican form of government in all the states. The court has already ruled in an emergency appeal that the Liberty Counsel will probably lose.

By the end of the day on 18th more than 1,700 couples had applied for licenses.

United Methodist Church General Conference

General Conference was another legislative setback for GLBT United Methodists. Delegates voted down an amendment that would have acknowledged that people of good faith disagree over homosexuality, and voted instead to say, “we will seek to live together in Christian community.” By a vote of 455-445 they also clarified and extended the list of chargeable clergy relationship offenses, changing Paragraph 2702 to state: “A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference, local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may choose a trial when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: a) immorality, including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not being faithful in a heterosexual marriage; b) practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incomepatible with Christian teaching, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.”

After the votes the Bishops agreed to give Soulforce an opportunity to address the delegates from the floor. Approximately 400 people joined in the protest, which involved Soulforce volunteers and members of Affirmation, the Reconciling Ministries Network, and Methodist Federation for Social Action singing songs and carrying rainbow banners and signs with a variety of messages, including “Remember our Baptism,” “God loves me just the way I am,” and “Not of one mind is better than being mindless.” Hundreds of people left the visitors bleachers and delegates and bishops stood in their seats in support.

“We want the delegates who voted against us to see the faces and the pain of those who they condemned this week,” said Rev. Marylee Fithian, UMC minister and co-chair of the Soulforce UMC Denominational Team. “If one person’s heart or mind has been changed through this incredible demonstration of love, we have succeeded.”

Rev. Phil Lawson, retired UMC Minister and Soulforce advisory board member, said, “The struggle for gay and lesbian equality runs parallel to the civil rights struggle. The major difference is that we had the church and we had our families, gays and lesbians have neither. This is why I am part of this movement for equality for all God’s people, to support those who need it most.”

The demonstration was covered favorably by the United Methodist News Service, which put a prominent link to video of the protest on their web site.

Texas Refuses to Recognize Creedless Religions

The Texas Comptroller has refused state tax-exempt status to the Red River UU Church in Dennison, TX and the North Texas Church of Freethought for failing to have a single creed involving “a belief in God, or gods, or a higher power.” A suit challenging the state’s 1999 denial of the Ethical Society of Austin on the same grounds is ongoing. An April 23 press release from the Comptroller said she would take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court "Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption.” The Knight-Ridder News Service distributed a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about the decision that noted the long history of Unitarian Universalism in America.

PA Legislators Sue Gay Couple

The Allentown Morning Call reports “a dozen state representatives filed a lawsuit… against two gay men from New Hope who were turned down for a Bucks County marriage license” ostensibly to prevent a judge from hearing their case should they decide to challenge the denial. The Inquirer reports that the Alliance Defense Fund is paying the legislators’ legal fees, and that the ACLU, the Women’s Law Project, and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights will defend the couple.

Episcopal Church, USA

The Right Rev. William Swing, Bishop of California, announced that retired bishop Otis Charles could no longer act as assisting bishop or celebrate the sacraments following reports in the San Francisco Chronicle of Charles’ church wedding to Felipe Sanchez Paris.

The Three Bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts have forbidden priests to solemnize legal weddings for same-gender couples despite their support for equal civil marriage rights. The Rev. Carter Heyward told the Boston Globe that she would disobey the bishops and officiate at two weddings: “"I have heard so many gays and lesbians tell me how profoundly disappointed they are in the Diocese of Massachusetts, and the bishops' responses, and they feel betrayed and really, really upset about it – they are saying it seems to be OK for the church to bless our unions as long as nothing is at stake. I was persuaded by those lamentations…. so I would say my position is constructive disobedience."

Radical Religious Right Reactions to Marriage

Focus on the Family (FoF) held a “May Day for Marriage” rally on May 1 for approximately 40,000 people at Safeco field in Seattle. The Seattle Times reported that people were calling both the Seattle Mariners and Safeco to cancel season tickets or insurance policies, even though neither group controls rentals of the publicly owned stadium. Letter writers to Washington papers expressed shock and outrage at the presence of pro-gay protestors at the event. In their newsletter report on the first day of marriage in Massachusetts, FoF made the bizarre claim that officials had waived the standard three-day waiting period so that the media would have something to take pictures of. In reality the waiting period can be waved with permission of a judge, and some of the couples had already been waiting decades.

The Family Research Council (FRC) held a preachers’ conference for 300 pastors from 40 states, who were encouraged by Chuck Colson, Rev. D. James Kennedy, Wellington Boone of Promise Keepers and U.S. Senators and Representatives “to become actively engaged in the biggest issue facing our nation – the battle to save marriage.” On May 24 FRC put on a program called “Battle for Marriage” with Colson, Boone, James Dobson and Tony Perkins at the New Life Christian Church in Colorado Springs that was carried on 1,500 radio stations and broadcast to 500 churches via satellite TV.

In a separate statement, the FRC’s Tony Perkins said, "The so-called 'gay agenda' is far-reaching, and it encompasses much more than the fight for marriage rights. If we do not immediately pass a Constitutional amendment protecting marriage, we will not only lose the institution of marriage in our nation, but eventually all critics of the homosexual lifestyle will be silenced. Churches will be muted, schools will be forced to promote homosexuality as a consequence-free alternative lifestyle, and our nation will find itself embroiled in a cultural, legal and moral quagmire.”

The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit to keep San Jose from recognizing the marriages of same-gender couples and the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Traditional Values Coalition is recruiting African-American clergy for "a state-by-state grassroots effort to pass legislation protecting marriage."

No Longer Silent

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead insisted that priests remove their names from the declaration of the pro-gay Phoenix clergy group No Longer Silent. Some priests complied, but a letter from the Rev. Andre R. Boulangerto to the Bishop on nolongersilent.org says in part: “One often hears Christians speak of loving the sinner but hating the sin. What are they communicating to others in this, especially to the young who are struggling to find their identity and deal with their sexual orientation? This kind of rhetoric is saying to them: You're freaks, but we love you anyway. Not because you're lovable as persons; but because Jesus commands us to love you. What kind of love is this? It isn't love at all. It's hypocrisy.”

Presbyterian Church (USA)

A synod Permanent Judicial Commission ruled that the Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken did not violate church law by marrying same-gender couples. Rev. Van Kuiken announced his retirement from the PCUSA immediately following the verdict, thus giving his opponents no grounds for appeal. However, the national stated clerk’s office issued an opinion that the original ruling barring the marriages of same-gender couples was still in effect.

Marriage Actions In Other States

The Providence Journal reports that 65 Rhode Island clergy have signed a statement for equal marriage rights and 35 clergy have signed a statement against equal marriage rights.

Five Arizona clergy solemnized marriages for 41 same-gender couples who had been denied marriage licenses and then attempted to turn themselves into the state for violating the anti-solemnization laws. Officials refused to accept the evidence or charge them. The maximum penalty would have been four months in jail and a $750 fine.

Six couples applied for licenses in Omaha on the 17th in solidarity with couples in Massachusetts. In Florida, four same-gender couples have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In New York City, 2,000 marriage supporters walked across the Brooklyn Bridge each wearing a number representing one of the federal laws that apply to married couples. The Chicago Tribune reported on a marriage rally attended by a “dozen or so black gay rights activists” and quoted Rev. Karen Hutt of Church of the Open Door: "Just because Bishop Trotter, Rev. Meeks and other black preachers believe that gay folks are second-class citizens in their churches, it does not mean that they can make us second-class citizens in this city, state or country."

The California legislature has shelved an equal marriage rights bill until the next session.

Virginia passed a law believed to be the most restrictive anti-gay law in the nation, banning all “arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." The Governor of New Hampshire signed a bill refusing to recognize marriages of same-gender couples performed in other states. The Missouri and Louisiana legislatures voted to put constitutional marriage bans on the ballot later this year. Anti-gay groups in Oregon are collecting signatures to put a constitutional marriage ban on the ballot.

The Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island issued statements that their state might honor marriages legally performed in Massachusetts, but Massachusetts’ Governor still opined that the marriages of people from those states were still not legal in Massachusetts.

Gender Isn't That Simple

The Providence Journal also published an explanation of the biological complexities of gender from Dr. Eric Vilain, chief of medical genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, who concluded “A constitutional amendment authorizing marriages only between men and women would not only discriminate against millions of Americans who do not fit easily in the mold of each category, but would simply be flawed and contrary to basic biological realities.”



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