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


The Marriage Revolution

On February 4 the Massachusetts Judicial Supreme Court responded to a request from the legislature for an advisory opinion as to whether a civil unions bill would satisfy the court; the response said a separate status for same-gender couples would be "unconstitutional, inferior and discriminatory;" that it would "would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits;" that the 180-day delay given to the legislature was to fix the law, not to try to get around the ruling; and that the state was required to start issuing licenses on May 17.

Elected officials and Religious Right groups immediately criticized "activist judges" and "judicial tyranny." On February 5 the AP reported that the Episcopal Bishop had visited the statehouse to urge legislators not to amend the Constitution and the Roman Catholic Bishop had visited to urge them to amend it. Reactions from other states became major news again, including anti-marriage legislation in twelve states and a bill in California to prohibit denial of marriage licenses to same-gender couples.

Editorials, letters and columns for and against the Massachusetts decision began appearing nationwide on February 6, along with predictions that the legislature would begin the three-year process to amend the state constitution. A William O. Beeman commentary from Pacific News Service pointed out that efforts to define marriage as being between a man and a woman are pointless since there "is no single clear, biological, psychological, or cultural definition of ‘male’ and ‘female.’" A Philadelphia Inquirer commentary by Jane Eisner and an editorial opposed the Massachusetts decision. On February 9 Focus on the Family reported that amendment supporters had 109 votes in the legislature; 101 are required.

On February 11 the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention began. A report in the Boston Globe described an evenly divided crowd of 1,500 people gathered outside the statehouse, including a church group with young kids with Remember Sodom and Gomorrah signs screaming, "Burn in hell," while 4,000 people lined the halls inside chanting at each other.

On February 12, Freedom to Marry Day, pro-amendment demonstrators failed to appear; an estimated 200 equal rights activists stood outside the chambers all day with American and rainbow flags singing the Star Spangled Banner. By midnight the legislature failed to pass anything and adjourned until March 11. That day same-gender couples across the country began applying unsuccessfully for marriage licenses. But in San Francisco, city officials quietly started issuing licenses and marrying same-gender couples, starting with Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83.

On February 13 two Religious Right organizations, the Campaign for California Families and the Alliance Defense Fund, failed to convince judges to issue injunctions against San Francisco and were told to try again Tuesday. The marriages continued; the line for licenses wrapped around City Hall. By the end of February 13, 665 couples had married. The Oakland Tribune noted an hour-long protest by members of a local mosque who felt obliged to "oppose such horrible crimes against Allah."

Over Valentine’s Day Weekend, 200 city employees volunteered to process the licenses and ceremonies as couples began arriving from all over and even outside the country. Media reports indicated that by the end of the day on February 16, 2,271 couples had received licenses, but court injunctions were imminent. On Tuesday both petitioned judges announced they would hear arguments on Friday.

On February 20 the county clerk of Bernalillo, NM announced that she was issuing licenses to same-gender couples. The Albuquerque Journal reported that 15 couples had been issued licenses by late morning and that outside the court two clergypersons were conducting impromptu marriage ceremonies: Rev. David Gant of Emmanuel MCC and Rev. Pearl Gabaldon. The State Attorney General ruled later that day that the licenses were invalid; the clerk stopped issuing them. In San Francisco, judges again denied the injunction requests and agreed to consolidate the two lawsuits into one. Still the marriages went on.

In their February 26 report on the marriage of Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter, the San Francisco Chronicle put the count at 3,200 couples, and the AP reported that the mayor of New Paltz, NY had announced he was ready to marry same-gender couples.

US Senate Judiciary hearings on a Constitutional Amendment are scheduled for March 3. Now is the time to be involved.

Negative Reactions to the Marriage Revolution

The Arlington Group, a new coalition of sixteen Radical Religious Right Organizations in reaction to the Massachusetts ruling: "Today's ruling makes it clear that there is no other option available to the people of Massachusetts than the passage of the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment on February 11th. The people must be given a voice, and this amendment is the only way to make that happen. The Massachusetts State Legislature must approve the ‘MA & PA Amendment’ next Wednesday. Today it is also clear that a federal marriage amendment is absolutely necessary. Congress must immediately pass it so that activist judges can no longer redefine marriage."

The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Inc, The Boston Ten Point Coalition and The Cambridge Black Pastors Conference issued a joint statement that concluded: "We acknowledge the pain and suffering of the men and women in the gay and lesbian community who are in long term relationships. However, given the most recent opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court eliminating the possibility of Civil Unions, we support the call for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman."

Christianity Today Supports Amendment

A Christiantiy Today editorial claimed, "Despite the hysterical rhetoric of the sexual Left, Christian involvement in this debate is not based on fear or hatred or lust for power. Instead, we engage in this debate because, with love and honor toward God, we love our neighbors and want the best for them," thereby ignoring Christians and other people of faith involved in the struggle for equality. The editors concluded: "We will rejoice if this nation chooses to protect the historic definition of marriage through a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, we will look to the church to embrace, with humility and joy, a new opportunity for countercultural witness. If American culture takes yet one more step into moral confusion, may subsequent generations record that the church refused to join this narcissistic parade."

New Religious Marriage Project

The Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry announced a marriage project, putting on the web "historical, ethical and theological perspectives on marriage, liturgical materials and sermons, and an overview of the important social justice issues involved in this contentious debate." Contact Bernard Schlager at bschlager@clgs.org.

Positive Reactions to the Marriage Revolution

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in a Feb. 6 commentary in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles titled Countering the Family Values Monopoly: "The desire that full rights be extended to lesbians and gays reflects the Jewish belief that gays and lesbians are human beings created in the image of God. The time has come for that truth to guide our culture, and religious Jews should not be hesitant in saying so. Until the day arrives that our gay and lesbian friends enjoy full rights, we who are religious should not rest. When that day of liberty and freedom arrives, justice will at long last roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

In a press release on freedomtomarry.org, Lama Surya Das said, "I've been watching the events unfold in San Francisco and what I have seen is that the joy and love that these people are sharing with each other is amazing and it is right. It's really been a transforming experience for myself and many of those in my religion to see such happiness shine from the West Coast here to the East Coast. There are over three thousand Buddhist centers in North America, and none have any problem with homosexuality."

Positive Religious Coverage

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco called the mayor’s actions "courageous" and "setting the pace for the rest of the nation," while the Rev. G. Penny Nixon of MCC San Francisco pointed out that her congregation had been performing weddings for same-gender couples for over 33 years. In a separate article, the Chronicle profiled the Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, who had married eight couples over the weekend, mostly in and around City Hall, but who on Sunday, Feb. 15, married Dan Johnson and Bill Hinson in the church sanctuary, and who held a press conference in support of equal marriage rights with a group of Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Baptist, Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist clergy. The Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral was quoted: "The time is long overdue for gay and lesbian people to have the support and protection of the law for their faithful relationships and their families. Gays and lesbians are our friends and colleagues. They are us. It’s time to honor and celebrate all those who seek to strengthen the human family."

The San Mateo County Times profiled the Rev. Wendy Taylor of Pescadero Community Congregational Church, who had been marrying couples for fifteen years and was finally able to marry her partner of twenty years in a civil ceremony.

On Feb. 17 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency profiled Jewish couples married in San Francisco, including Rabbi Yoel Kahn of Sonoma, CA, Rabbi Denise Eger of Congegation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, and Rabbi Camille Angel of Congregation Shaar Zahav in San Francisco. Rabbi Angel told the JTA that more than 40 couples in her congregation had gotten licenses and that she had celebrated wedding ceremonies for eight, for the first time since she was ordained using the phrase, "With the power vested in me." The article also mentioned the support of Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanist Rabbis for equal marriage rights, and quoted former IWG supporter Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta.

On Feb. 18 the Oakland Tribune reported on an equal marriage rights rally by "more than 50 people from First Unitarian Church in Oakland and other local congregations."

UCC Coalition Marriage Statement

The UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns issued a statement which said in part: "The Coalition applauds the decision in Massachusetts that makes marriage accessible to all heterosexual and same-sex couples. We urge all states to make similar decisions. We further urge that work be done on the federal level to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 which legalizes discrimination by denying on a federal level the civil right of marriage to same-sex couples. As a religious rite, marriage takes place in the broader context of love, community and justice. In this theological context four things are evident: 1. Any conversation about marriage needs to affirm that marriage’s purpose and focus is always love, wholeness, justice and equality. We give thanks to God when marriage is a covenant which reflects God’s covenant with us. 2. However, any conversation about marriage needs also to take seriously the history of domestic violence, oppression of women and children and the misuse of the institution (including its historic racism) 3. Any conversation about marriage needs to decentralize marriage as the only expression of covenant and commitment between adults. God has given to us many forms of relationship: community, friendship, family bonds, etc. Scripture gives us examples of all of these as holy and blessed: the relationships between David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi, the notion of the ‘People of God’ and that of the ‘Body of Christ,’ for example. 4. Any conversation about marriage must take seriously the reality that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) and heterosexual people have made conscious choices to covenant with one another in ways other than civil or religious marriage. These covenants should also be honored and celebrated."

Philadelphia Commitment Ceremony

On Valentine’s Day, Rev. Jeff Jordan, of MCC Philadelphia, and IWG Supporter Rev. Karla Fleshman, of Imago Dei MCC, officiated at a ceremony for a diverse group of thirty-nine same-gender couples in front of the famous LOVE statue, in view of Philadelphia’s City Hall. The ceremony was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Working Group and several other local religious organizations, including Central Baptist Church in Wayne and Soulforce Philadelphia. The coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer was both extensive and respectful.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Synod of the Covenant’s Permanent Judicial Commission ordered, "that the declaration of the Presbytery of Cincinnati that the Rev. A. Stephen Van Kuiken has renounced jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church (USA) be vacated and that his name be restored to the rolls of the Presbytery." The Presbytery had voted to remove Van Kuiken for performing a marriage while a previous ruling against him was still under appeal. In a separate action, the Cincinnati Presbytery voted against a proposal to put Mt. Auburn Presbyterian, Van Kuiken’s former church, into a newly created provisional status.

Under the headline "Intersex – the church needs to know," OneByOne, the Presbyterian arm of Exodus International, recently forwarded to their email list the text of an ABC News report on intersex individuals, saying that the story "affirms the message that our sexual orientation is more complex than gay activists would lead us to believe," an especially peculiar claim given that it is Exodus that keeps insisting on the existence of a God-ordained binary sexuality and non-genetic causes of other gender identities and attractions.

Concerned Women for America

In an interview in Human Events, Sandy Rios of Concerned Women for America stated that the author of the original Federal Marriage Amendment wrote the amendment with the explicit intention of banning civil unions, despite the claim of Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage that the Amendment would only ban court ordered marriages. Rios also compares banning same-gender marriages without banning civil unions to banning slavery but allowing people to be kept as chattel.



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