A Victory for Marriage

Below are the reflections of Orelia Busch, outgoing Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues / UUWF Clara Barton Intern, on the Proposition 8 court decision.  You can also read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales’ statement on the ruling at UUA.org.

Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, released on Wednesday, August 4, was a resounding victory for supporters of same sex marriage.  I can honestly say that I was surprised.  In the 24 hours between the announcement that the ruling would be handed down and its actual release, both sides were preparing their appeals, and it seemed like no one could even speculate on what the judge would say.


DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality

Below are the remarks of Rev. Rob Hardies to his congregation, All Souls Church, Unitarian, upon the unprecedented gathering of Washington, DC clergy today in support of marriage equality. It was truly a blessed and spirit-filled gathering. Leaders from all three UUA affiliated congregations in the District of Columbia have reached out to bring clergy together from within and outside of the denomination for this important work. The fruits of their labor of love – the text of the new coalition’s declaration of religious support for marriage equality – is reproduced below. Over 100 clergy and religious leaders, including the ministerial staff at All Souls, the Washington Ethical Society, and the Universalist National Memorial Church and other UU ministers residing in DC have signed the declaration.

Dear Friends,

An historic and spirit-filled event took place today deep in the heart of Anacostia.

At 11:00 am, a multiracial group of over 50 clergy gathered at Covenant Baptist Church to declare our religious support for marriage equality for same-gender couples. In addition, we were able to announce that in the last 7 days alone, more than 150 DC religious leaders–of all faiths and denominations, and representing every ward in the city–have signed our declaration.

The event was covered by all the local television stations, as well as the Post and other print media. Be on the look for coverage this evening and tomorrow.

Afterward, the clergy who gathered said they’d never seen such a religiously, racially and ethnically diverse gathering of clergy in this city. And we all were amazed that it was THIS issue that brought us all together. Each of us felt as though we’d experienced a special and holy moment.

That holy moment was a gift to this city from our church. Many, many people played a role in making today happen, but All Souls played the leading role in organizing this coalition. As I said in church on Sunday, everything in our history as a congregation has brought us to this leadership role: our legacy of prophetic justice-making, our identity as a congregation that is diverse both racially and in terms of sexual orientation, our location at the crossroads of the city, and, most importantly, the store of “solidarity capital” that we have built up over years of working side-by-side with others for justice.

I believe that the cause of equality for gays and lesbians is, along with the struggle for immigrant justice and the on-going struggle for racial equality, one of the defining civil rights struggles of our generation. As in previous generations, dating back almost two centuries, All Souls will take a leadership role.

I’m grateful–and I know you are too–to be part of a church that has repeatedly stood up for justice, and never failed to stand on the side of love. Thank you for making our ministry possible.

Declaration of Religious Support for Marriage Equality

We are District of Columbia clergy and religious leaders of many faiths, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. We represent religious institutions in every ward in the District. We have worked together over many years for peace and justice and now join our voices again to speak a faithful word for freedom and equality.

We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couples.

Our religious traditions and scriptures teach us that wherever love is present, God is also present. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is our human capacity to love one another. The ability of two people to enter into relationships and form families of love and care is one expression of this gift. It is holy and good. We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.

We recognize that there are principled differences on this issue within the religious community. We affirm that the state should not require any religious group to officiate at, or bless, same-gender marriages. However, the state also should not favor the convictions of one religious group over another by denying individuals their fundamental civil right to marry whom they love.

Recognizing that there is heartfelt disagreement on this issue, we call on all people of the District of Columbia to engage in a respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality. As religious leaders, we commit ourselves to such a dialogue and encourage our colleagues on all sides of this issue to do the same.

God is love and love is for everyone. In this spirit we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry.

You can read more about this story in local press coverage, and on npr.org.

The Freedom to Marry – For Free

Rev. Elizabeth ‘Kit’ Ketcham has been serving the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island since 2003. She leads worship services there approximately twice a month, and her efforts have included assisting the congregation in becoming a Welcoming Congregation, open and welcoming to sexual minorities. She also provides pastoral care, consultation to committees and individuals, and rites of passage ceremonies. You can read her blog: Miss Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show.

Beaming at me before our worship service that Sunday, Maggie and Andrea (not their real names) confided their good news: they were engaged and planning to be married next summer. And, by the way, would I perform the ceremony for them?

“Congratulations!” was my immediate response and “Of course I’ll perform your ceremony! It will be an honor.”

When these two radiant young women lighted a candle that morning at Joys and Concerns to announce their engagement and upcoming marriage, the delight on the faces of our Whidbey Island congregation was clear. In the short time they’d been attending our services, they had won the hearts of all who had gotten to know them.

Of course, civil marriage is not yet a civil right in Washington State, though our legislature has enacted increasingly protective domestic partnership laws. To complicate matters further, one of these young women is in the Navy, stationed in Oak Harbor on the north end of the island. She risks her career if she even registers as a domestic partner.

After church, I got to thinking. At present, I serve this congregation part-time and must charge a fee for extra services such as weddings and memorials.

But I didn’t want to charge Maggie and Andrea. I wanted them to use our beautiful new sanctuary for their wedding and as members of the congregation, they would have that benefit. I wanted their wedding ceremony to be a gift as well.

And then an idea popped into my head: what if we as a congregation offered the use of our new sanctuary and my services as officiant for any Whidbey Island same sex couples who wanted to celebrate their marriage of the heart, as a gift during the year 2009, and as a way to offset some of the heartache and distress caused by the passage of Prop 8 in California and similar measures around the country?

So I started vetting the idea with colleagues and friends, garnering in the process a lot of good will and good feedback about how to make it successful. After pulling together all the ideas and getting the approval of our board of trustees and the enthusiasm of the congregation, I wrote a press release and an op ed essay for our local newspaper.

When the editor of the South Whidbey Record received the information, he sent out a reporter and placed the news story on the front page of our twice-weekly paper, with the op ed essay and press release in a later edition.

We expected to have some blowback, but it has virtually all been positive. Even an online criticism was polite, not hostile. Instead of hostility or vandalism or outrage, our attendance at worship immediately jumped. People stopped me at the gym and wanted to know more. Local merchants have offered discounts—20% off a wedding cake for same sex couples getting married; a local caterer has added our information to his website; and a local photographer has offered her services for wedding photos.

In addition, a few UU colleagues are considering how they might use this idea in their own communities and some of my local colleagues, pastors who don’t have the same freedom granted by their denominational governing bodies, have expressed their support and their desire to be helpful if possible.

Offering this gift of acceptance and honor for relationships between people who love and are committed to one another has been a great boon for us as a congregation and has demonstrated to the larger community that we are standing on the side of love.

Click here to see the article in the South Whidbey Record. The op-ed piece written by Rev. Ketcham, as well as the press release detailing the congregation’s offer were published in the print version of the paper.

Freedom to Marry – A Wave of Action

All over the country, people have been speaking out for marriage equality and Unitarian Universalists have been overwhelmingly showing the nation that we stand firmly on the side of love and equal rights for all. Same sex couples from Hawaii to New York have been applying for marriage licenses, marching, and speaking outside of city halls.

Read and listen to the words of Rev. Bryan Jessup of the UU Church of Fresno.

See photos of the Freedom to Marry protest in Dallas, Texas from the Dallas Voice.

Learn more about how you can support marriage equality and what others are doing nationwide at Join the Impact, and Tell-three.org.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch this video that was put together by the Courage Campaign, and share it with your friends and loved ones. Marriage equality is about love and justice for so many families in this country.

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Freedom to Marry – Our Faith Demands It

Rev. Keith Kron is the Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns at the UUA. A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry, he spent nine years as an elementary school teacher in Lexington, KY. He collects children’s books and plays tennis.

I grew up pretty much like a lot of folks. I was repeatedly reminded to tuck in my shirt, or at the very least, untuck all of it. I went to church. I anxiously awaited my new copy of Sports Illustrated in every Friday’s mail. I vegged out by watching M*A*S*H* and way too many reruns of Gilligan’s Island. I was taken care of by parents who assured me I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be and would some day fall in love and get married.

My parents, like so many, did not know they were lying. Like most people they assumed I would fall in love with a woman and get married. At 14, it would be my subscription to Sports Illustrated that would be the awakening of a different reality.

Sitting on my grandmother’s couch, looking at the pictures of the Boston Red Sox’s two star outfielders, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, it hit me. This wasn’t just admiration, it was a crush. And there went my parents’ promise out the window. At the time I didn’t worry about whether or not I could get married, but whether or not I could keep quiet about my sexual orientation and avoid harassment, violence, institutionalization and deprogramming until my adulthood. Then perhaps I could find my center fielder and live a quiet life with my “best friend.” That seemed the best I could hope for in 1975 in Kentucky.

Now, I hope for more. Youth still get harassed, attacked, institutionalized, and “deprogrammed”, but there are also role models of couples who’ve gotten married in several states and Canada, gay characters on television and in the movies, and a far greater acceptance than I might have thought would ever be possible at fourteen.

It’s progress. But progress is not equality. And it won’t happen until full marriage is welcomed for same-sex couples.

The current marriage debate hinges for me on two arguments:

1) Marriage is about love.
2) People should be treated equally and fairly.

The first statement is a newer thing. Shakespeare was way ahead of his time. Throughout most of human history, marriage was an arrangement between families, often as much about how many goats a family might get through an arranged marriage (or whatever might make families more prosperous) and rarely about love. In these times, which still exist in parts of the world, sexual orientation really didn’t matter. You weren’t marrying because someone caught the glimmer of your eye and stole your heart. You married because it was arranged. In some places where it wasn’t about money, people didn’t even bother to get married.

But somewhere along the line, marriage became about the heart—and not just the Disney kind, but the kind where a person agreed to be with someone over time, to take care of the other person, to be a constant. That’s been a common belief here in the United States for over 100 years.

The second statement is also a newer thing. Even our constitution says “All Men are created equal.” It’s only recently that many of us have begun believing in the value of treating all people equally because we are inherently equal. Women, people of color, people with disabilities and many others still face inequality.

Yet if you believe that this is the goal and if you believe that marriage is about love, then how can you not support marriage for same-sex couples?

When I realized my crush as a 14 year old, one of the leading arguments against equal rights for women was that it would permit same-sex couples to marry. But Unitarian Universalism was already coming from a different place. In 1975, our faith had created, funded, and staffed a small office to do work on homophobia. We had passed a resolution supporting nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and had included the issue in our sexuality education for youth. Now some 34 years later, we see the results of this in our congregations and in our lives. Actually, some of our ministers even began performing ceremonies for same sex couples before 1975.

A current look at what 34 years of work on homophobia has reaped. We have many valued openly b/g/l/t ministers, welcome families with same sex parents, over 60% of our congregations explicitly welcome b/g/l/t members, and they were instrumental in helping to legalize same sex marriage in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Our congregations have grown and prospered. Our children are not only unharmed by this, but now they understand that children can grow up in families with all kinds of parents. As one UU college student put it, after being asked why she was supporting the rights of b/g/l/t people, “I grew up a UU. It’s my religion.”

The sky has yet to fall, not only in Unitarian Universalism but also in Massachusetts. The only difference one can see in Massachusetts since the 2004 beginning of same-sex marriages is that my beloved Boston Red Sox have won not one but two World Series. (The Patriots and Celtics also have championships since 2004.)

In fact, our families seem to be strengthened by having same-sex couples and b/g/l/t people in our midst, where children can talk about loving their two dads or their Aunts Jane and Lisa. Our youth are less anxious about sex and sexual orientation and more likely to talk about loving someone, and our adults are advocating for full equality for all people.

During Freedom to Marry Week, each of us can speak out in conversations with neighbors and friends, at work and with our families about marriage being about love and equal rights for all people—working toward a day when we can truthfully tell all our children that they will some day grow up, fall in love, become a responsible adult, and get married.

It’s our religion.

Why Legal Marriage Matters

Audra Friend (front) is the Program Coordinator at the Unitarian Universalist Association Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness. She lives in Boston with her wife, Audrey Fergason.

I have a wide range of pins and buttons decorating the corkboard in my office. My walls are dotted with posters and signs. Even my water bottle is collaged with slogans and logos: Freedom to Marry Coalition, Amnesty OUTfront!, Equal Marriage NOW, and Human Rights Campaign.

But my favorite token of support for marriage equality is the silver wedding ring on my left hand.

As of today, I’ve been married for four months. If you had asked me four months ago if a legal marriage would change anything for me, I would have said no. My wife and I were committed to each other; our families supported us; my work and her school were welcoming communities. Legal marriage seemed momentous to be sure, but I was confident my life wouldn’t change.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Moments after my boss, Susan Leslie, who was solemnized for the day to perform our wedding, signed the marriage license, my world changed. My mother cried and hugged my wife – her new daughter-in-law – and my wife’s teenaged cousins crowed that we were now legally connected. My younger brother – who married before me – joked that I was officially a big girl. Surrounded by our friends and family, all who had the benefit of legal marriage, my wife and I found that our relationship had changed in their minds.

Audrey and I feel quite blessed to be in a state where we can be legally married, a sentiment driven home to us when we traveled to New York and North Carolina in January. Even though we happily had no problems, we both realized that despite our wedding rings, our commitment, our families, and our legal marriage, we had no protections as a couple outside of Massachusetts. It was a sobering reminder of how important the fight for marriage equality is and how so many couples in the United States are not as lucky as we are.

All relationships deserve to be treated equally. This week, consider having a conversation with someone about marriage equality. Freedom to Marry offers some conversation starters. If you are married, consider your ring as your token of support for marriage equality and lift up your voice with ours.

Sign the Marriage Resolution

Rev. Ricky Hoyt is a Unitarian Universalist minister, author, and spiritual director serving a congregation in the Los Angeles area. You can read his blog and find out more about his ministry on his website. He is pictured below with his husband, Peleg Top.

I’m not the type to sign online petitions. I don’t add my name to open letters, at least not very often. I don’t forward “this important message” to all of my friends. I seldom call the governor’s office and punch numbers on the automated phone system to register my support or outrage about some crucial issue. I’ve almost never written a letter to my congressional representatives, except in those cases where someone at the social justice table at church has made it ridiculously easy for me.

Spiritually I just don’t want to get that worked up. I have a limited amount of passion and resources, and I don’t want to squander them by keeping myself anxious about everything day after day, week after week. Spiritually I’d rather take a walk outside, enjoy the sunshine, or the rain. I’d rather think about theology than legislation. I’d rather read the newspaper than the latest emotional plea from a non-profit, social justice, advocacy group in my inbox. The truth is I’d rather take a nap than go stand on a street corner with a sign. I’d rather stay at home, sitting on the couch, watching Grey’s Anatomy with my husband.

So I understand people’s reluctance to get involved in the marriage equality movement. It happens to be an issue close to my heart (see the above reference to sitting on the couch with my husband) but I hardly expect the same issue has risen to the top of every person’s social justice agenda. But I’ve also learned something concerning this issue that makes for very effective social justice action and that fits very well with my reluctance to add my name to lists and forward petitions and contact my elected officials.

I’m absolutely convinced that the greatest contribution I have made to the marriage equality movement is that I have been openly gay, openly partnered, and openly in support of this issue. I’ve shown people who know me: my family, friends, people at the church, even sometimes people I barely know at Starbucks and the gym and the barbershop, that I’m a person who knows about this issue and cares about this issue in a personal way because it’s actually about my life, not some abstract principle. I have also, on this issue, taken more deliberative and pointed actions in support of marriage equality. But more effective than any of that, I’ve simply lived my life as a married gay man (sitting on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy and so on) and whenever it was natural and appropriate I wouldn’t be shy about letting people know about me and see that side of my life.

It’s a lot easier to be against “gay marriage” than it is to know me and be against “Ricky’s marriage.” It’s hard to match any of the rhetorical arguments against marriage equality with the actual experience of knowing me and my husband and who we are and how we live our lives. So I don’t sign online petitions but I do have a website for my ministry where you wouldn’t have to search too long to discover I’m a married gay man, and I’m happy to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. I don’t sign open letters or forward emails to all my friends, but I am who I am on my facebook page and when I send an email to my friends and it mentions my husband they know who that is and why our marriage is important and worth protecting. I don’t call the Governor very often but I call my folks every week and I ask about their marriage and they ask about mine.

I hope a lot of people are spending this week writing and calling and speaking out and marching or sitting and forwarding and adding their names and so on. God bless you. If you’re the type, here’s a link to an online resolution that the Freedom to Marry folks are encouraging everyone to sign and email to their friends. Do it. I did. It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t have to get too worked up about it.

But also consider outing yourself as a marriage equality supporter and using all the regular places that you call and write and stand and speak out to announce your position on this issue. Don’t shove it down anybody’s throat but find a way to bring it up. “You know I actually know a gay couple who got married last summer.” “I can’t for the life of me imagine how anyone could object to my friend’s marriage.” “My church married a lesbian couple last month and it was beautiful.” Update your face book status to say, “… is celebrating Freedom to Marry week.” Write a blog post about the lesbian couple who lived down the street from you when you were a kid. Get a new bumper sticker supporting marriage equality and stick it over that John Kerry bumper sticker that won’t come off.

Then go watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Freedom to Marry – freedom from fear

Today’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle, minister of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, Texas. He is also a retired naval officer, former university professor, marathon runner, and triathlete. Matt and his wife Gail have two children, Alex (16) and Andy (11).

On Valentines Day, as I have done for several years, I will again co-officiate Houston’s Freedom to Marry wedding ceremony where as many as fifty gay and lesbian couples will get married. Every time I participate in this ceremony, or conduct an individual wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, I am brought back to the holy in a unique way. Of course, the holy is present at every wedding. To facilitate the public profession of the sacred bond of love between two people is a deep honor and privilege. But to marry a couple whose profession is most often ignored and rejected by society at large comes with additional responsibility and accountability–responsibility to work tirelessly for the day when discrimination is neither legislated by the government nor perpetuated by ignorance–accountability to God and to humanity that all souls are able to live with equal freedoms and without fear.

Whenever I perform same-sex wedding, I say the following:

Although the State of Texas does not yet recognize marriage between same-sex couples, this is in no way diminishes the union we celebrate today. This couple is formalizing their commitment today not before the laws of the state, but before the loving witness of each other, of their families and friends, and before that which is holy and sacred to them in their love for one another. All love is holy. The bonds of marriage are unique that two people, who began their lives apart, find one another and recognize the joy they experience in one another. In our society, the romantic bond of love between two women or between two men is usually received with misunderstanding, fear, and constant discrimination. Love in the face of such obstacles is tested unlike that of most couples. This love has to be even stronger in the face of adversity, this is indeed a sacred bond of a very special love.

And yet, I am saddened every time I say these words because I shouldn’t have to. I am saddened that fear and disdain of the other perpetuates such discrimination. Human beings are naturally afraid of what they don’t understand. Most heterosexuals don’t understand what it means to be gay. I always recommend asking a gay or lesbian person about their lives. If you think you don’t know anyone, think again. They are in your neighborhood, at work, at school, in line at the grocery store with their families, and sitting next to you in church. Most of them will tell you that they are afraid too. They are afraid of losing their jobs, their children, their homes, their extended families and friends, or worse. They are afraid of being the victims of violent hate crimes. Sadly, there is more than enough evidence to support all of their fears. Ironically, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support being afraid of homosexuality or what might happen if marriage was a universal right between two loving people.

I can’t understand why anyone would deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Because they can’t procreate together? Neither can many heterosexual couples, but we allow them to marry. Because homosexuality is a sin? Even if it was, all of us have sinned, and should think twice before throwing stones. But homosexuality is not a sin. It is not a choice. It is not a lifestyle. If you don’t understand this, think about when you decided to be heterosexual. Chances are you never decided. Being heterosexual is simply who you are. Everyone falls in love and everyone should have the same right to solemnize and legalize their loving, healthy, and monogamous relationship. Should we deny same-sex marriage because it threatens traditional marriage? No. Honoring lifelong love and commitment between two people does not weaken, but strengthens, the institution of marriage regardless of whether they are man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman.

Freedom to marry for all loving couples is not only a step toward building a beloved community–it is a step away from the fear that grips our lives.

For those who will respond to this post with their own disdain, using as absolute authority either scripture or research to deny marriage equality (as folks always do when I have the audacity to promote the virtue of love and equality), I ask you to try something different this time. Here are some suggestions:

  • Come to the ceremony on Valentines Day (or go to one in your area if you are not in Houston).
  • Talk deeply with your gay family member or friend (you do have one) about their lives.
  • Go see the movie “Milk.”
  • Rent or buy the documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”

In short, do anything that is an authentic step toward loving your neighbor and loving your enemy as yourself and learning about someone who is different than you before you see fit to condemn them.


Rev. Matt

This entry was reprinted from Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle’s blog “Keep The Faith,” which is hosted by the Houston Chronicle.

Freedom to Marry Week

We are officially kicking off Freedom to Marry Week, February 8th through 14th! “7 Conversations in 7 Days,” sponsored by Freedom to Marry, focuses on the reality that having a conversation with another individual, with your faith community, with your legislator, helps effectively promote marriage equality in your community and nationwide.

From February 8th through 14th, the UUA will celebrate Freedom to Marry Week by posting stories and essays written by prominent Unitarian Universalist ministers and marriage equality activists. If you haven’t already, we invite you to visit the UUA’s Action of the Month website and pledge to take action, including lobbying your elected representatives to promote BGLT equality.

There are so many ways for you to be involved in this event! Visit the Freedom to Marry website for videos about marriage equality, conversation starters, and ideas on how you can make a difference. Start conversations about marriage equality at home or at church, write about marriage equality in your own blog or post your own short video on youtube. Donate your facebook status for the day or week to marriage equality, and invite your friends on facebook to participate in Freedom to Marry Week.
“Standing on the Side of Love,” a video produced by the Unitarian Universalist Association, makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality. This video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others! The conversations we start this week can create a spiral of influence — encouraging everyone who is touched to stand on the side of love.