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.


Members of Congress Commit to BGLT-Inclusive Immigration Reform

On July 15th, Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness for the Unitarian Universalist Association released the following statement:

The Unitarian Universalist Association joins the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) coalition in urging the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants and their families. Our faith teaches us that we are all members of one human family. We stand on the side of love with all immigrant families to call for humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

A system that breaks apart families is itself broken. LGBT immigrant families are at extremely high risk for being denied basic rights and services not only because of their immigration status but because their families are not equally recognized by U.S. law. We will not be silent while families are separated. Same-sex couples should have the same opportunity as straight couples to prove that their families deserve to stay together. Transgender immigrants and travelers should be able to obtain documentation without undue questioning or harassment. We stand proudly behind our allies in the U.S. Congress who understand that the only way to fix our immigration system is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes LGBT individuals and families.

The UAFA coalition represents more than thirty groups, including faith groups and organizations focused on immigrant rights, worker justice, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The six members of Congress who spoke at the press conference included Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). They expressed the urgent need to change current immigration laws and called on their colleagues to help them pass comprehensive, inclusive immigration reform legislation before the end of 2010.

Also speaking at the press conference were Erwin De Leon, the immigrant half of a D.C. based bi-national couple, and Karen Narasaki, the president of the Asian American Justice Center.  Narasaki is a Unitarian Universalist who attends All Souls Church, Unitarian.  De Leon, whose husband can’t sponsor him for legal permanent residency in the U.S. under current immigration policies, spoke at the Standing on the Side of Love event on Capitol Hill in April.

For more information, see full press coverage of the event and read the joint statement released by the coalition.  To learn more about the UAFA coalition, please see the Immigration Equality Action Fund website.

President’s Memo on Hospital Visitation Falls Short of Full Equality

On April 15, President Obama issued a memorandum supporting hospital visitation rights for partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and other Americans who are admitted to hospitals and whose caregivers or closest companions are not blood relatives or a spouse. It requests that hospital staff and administration respect any advance directives about visitation and decision-making people had in place before an emergency or routine hospital stay. While this move by the Obama Administration clearly shows support for LGBT families, it’s far short of what people of all sexual orientations and gender identities deserve: full equality in all matters under law.

The fact remains that even with this memorandum, and other legal documents and advance directives in place, same-sex partners can still be excluded from hospital rooms and prevented from providing love and comfort to their sick and dying loved ones.

Over the past several days, many blogs have publicized the heart-wrenching story of Harold Scull and Clay Greene, an elderly gay couple from Sonoma County, CA. When Harold was hospitalized after a fall in 2008, the hospital barred Clay from visiting his partner of 20 years. In a further affront to human dignity, Harold and Clay’s lease was terminated by Sonoma County and their belongings were auctioned off. The county placed Clay in a nursing home against his will and separated him from Harold, who passed away three months after the fall without his partner by his side. All this happened despite the fact that the couple had wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives all naming each other. The National Center for Lesbian Rights is currently assisting Clay’s attorneys in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home.

Heartbreaking stories like Clay and Harold’s remind us that we have a long way to go before LGBT Americans enjoy their full and equal rights as citizens and members of society.

Please join our friends at GetEQUAL in calling on President Obama to step up and be a fierce advocate for LGBT equality.

Marriage Equality Day in D.C.!

This morning, I watched with about 300 other people as Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. I watched from the pews of my own church, All Souls Church, Unitarian, as D.C. City Council members called the bill a victory for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. The ceremony made it abundantly clear that people of faith stand overwhelmingly for marriage equality. This bill does not in any way impede those whose faiths do not solemnize same-sex marriages from practicing their religion, and it allows clergy all over the District of Columbia to solemnize unions for their congregants of all sexual orientations.

For Unitarian Universalists and many others, marriage equality is an expression of our deepest values of fairness and justice for all. Although I have celebrated other victories for equality in the past year, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotional reaction to the council’s vote and today’s bill signing. Something shifted inside of me, and I was in tears. I realized that until this week, I didn’t truly believe that I would ever live in a place where I could marry another woman. I had taken for granted that I was in a fight that I could never win. It feels so much more urgent for me now to work for a day when I don’t have to worry about losing my rights if and when I move to another city. It seems even more ludicrous to me than it did before that some people have the right to marry and others are still waiting.

I left the ceremony with renewed hope and a renewed commitment to full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. Of course, equality encompasses so much more than the right to marry – it includes things that many of us take for granted – like being able to use the bathroom safely, the right to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive sexuality education, safe schools, the right to do meaningful work, and so much more. The road ahead of me seems long and full of twists and turns, but if it is paved with victories like today’s, I will be blessed indeed. If you are as grateful for this day as I am, please take a moment to send a thank-you note to the D.C. City Council members whose support made this day possible.

(Rev. Rob Hardies holding one of the pens Mayor Fenty used to sign the bill.)

Standing on the Side of Love with a Broken Heart

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog. As many of you may know. our Rev. Meg Riley is director of the UUA’s Advocacy & Witness staff group and also director of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

It is the morning after election day. I went to sleep early last night, when results were still unclear in all kinds of races around the country, and learned about them as I learn about many things now—on facebook. The first posting I saw was from a ministerial colleague—I am heartbroken for Maine.

My stomach twisted and my heart sank.

We have faced so many of these ‘mornings after.’ The people who live in the states where their full humanity and their equality has been shouted about, argued about, snickered about, and ultimately voted upon, now have to get up and go about their business.

Those I feel most for are the parents, preparing their children to go to school this morning. Kids who see elections pretty much as they see sporting events, who want to be on the winning team, must now go to school to face the gloating that losers always face. We who parent send our hearts out into the world each day, and those hearts are broken today.

And yet, I know from parenting my own daughter, the strength and resilience and vision of the next generation is what pulls us through. In my daughter’s short lifetime already, we have moved quantum leaps towards marriage equality, towards valuing all families.

Part of me is amazed that 47% of the people in Maine voted for the rights of less than 10%. The whole notion of putting the rights of a minority up to a vote of the majority is blatantly undemocratic, completely counter to the notion of the Constitution as I understand it. I am incredibly proud of the work that people of faith did in Maine to present families of all kinds with dignity and love.

So, on this morning after the election, I am mostly grateful to know that I am in the company of other people of all ages, shapes and sizes whose still stand on the side of love, even with broken hearts.

(And even while my heart breaks for Maine, it lifts for the folks in Kalamazoo and Washington State, where love and justice triumphed over fear.)

Standing on the Side of Love by Canvassing for Marriage Equality in Maine

There were about 80 of us gathered this weekend from Maine and other New England states at a gay bar in Ogunquit to get trained for canvassing in communities for the ‘No on 1” campaign. Question 1 on the ballot would override the state legislature’s vote which was signed in to law by the governor to legalize marriage equality beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

A group from my church—First Parish Cambridge UU—joined the volunteers, wearing our ‘No on 1’ stickers and Standing on the Side of Love pins, and carrying our Standing on the Side of Love signs. The organizers from Maine Equality loved our signs and asked if they could have some for the office along with a stack of buttons.

I canvassed with my husband and my 11 year old son. Most of the people we spoke to were voting No on 1 and so our job was to ask them to vote absentee before Election Day and to recruit them as volunteers for the campaign. We also encountered a few people who are voting against us—although they were very nice as they told us they were voting to take away people’s rights(!). We didn’t meet anyone who is still undecided. The polling, however, shows a dead heat between yes and no voters, with 4% still undecided. It is absolutely critical that we do all we can to defeat this ballot initiative. Along with canvassing, our congregation’s youth group and others are phone banking at the Mass Equality headquarters this weekend.

The most moving part of the weekend for me was in the training and debriefing of the canvassers. When the organizers asked if any of the couples in the room were married, we of course raised our hands, as did another straight married couple, and about a half dozen gay/lesbian couples who shouted out the states they had been married in – mostly Massachusetts and CA (while it was legal). It hit me profoundly how I so take for granted the right to marry. I was inspired by the people in the room who were brave and determined enough to go out into neighborhoods where they were bound to hear people tell them why they should not have this right or be treated as equals (or worse).

My family felt proud to be standing on the side of love with these courageous folks. It was definitely one of the liveliest trainings I have attended and the role play between ‘Casey Canvasser’ and ‘Valerie Vixen Voter’ deserved to be on stage! The debriefing included stories that needed to be ‘shaken off’ as people reported some of the hostility they encountered and it was another moment of recognizing the privilege I experience as a straight person. There were also wonderful stories including one about a woman who identified herself as born again Christian and felt that Jesus just wants us to love and that’s why she’s voting No on 1. The camaraderie and the compassion we witnessed this weekend were truly inspiring. My son is now more outraged and determined to work for equality than he has ever been simply from our kitchen table discussions. The experience of coming together—gay and straight—to protect marriage equality had us all feeling and witnessing the power of love to stop oppression.

Massachusetts Sues the Federal Government Over Marriage Discrimination

Today, the State of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government stating that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) “constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.”

The lawsuit alleges that by passing legislation which excludes same sex couples from the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage in the United States, the federal government has overstepped its bounds and infringed upon the States’ rights to define marriage on their own terms.

All of the same sex couples who have wed in Massachusetts, as well as in the other states that recognize same sex marriages, are denied access to the benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including federal income tax credits, employment benefits, retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security payments. According to the lawsuit, DOMA requires the state of Massachusetts to treat same sex and heterosexual married couples differently, and is therefore unconstitutional.

The Random House Dictionary defines a patriot as one who regards oneself as a defender of individual rights, especially against presumed interference by the federal government. Thanks to all of the hardworking champions of marriage equality in Massachusetts, many of whom are Unitarian Universalists, for challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in court. You are all truly patriotic.

District of Columbia Recognizes Out-of-District Same-Sex Marriages

Today, same sex couples living in the District of Columbia are one huge step closer to enjoying full marriage equality. Those who have gotten married in other states and some foreign countries that have legalized marriage for same sex couples will now have their marriages officially recognized by the District of Columbia.

These couples will receive the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage under D.C. law, but will not, however be granted the 1,100 federal rights and responsibilities that married opposite sex couples enjoy all over the country. Click here for more information about D.C.’s new law.

Unitarian Universalist religious leaders in D.C. have been and will continue to be tireless and outspoken advocates for marriage equality as part of the D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality and D.C. For Marriage coalitions.

The Unitarian Universalist Association will also continue to work to end marriage discrimination as we call on the United States Government to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to grant full and equal access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage for committed and loving same sex couples.

Marriage Equality in New Hampshire!

Yesterday afternoon, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed into law a bill legalizing civil marriage for same sex couples. Unitarian Universalists in New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts have worked tirelessly towards this victory, and we applaud their efforts. New Hampshire became the sixth state in the union that recognizes civil marraiges for same sex couples. Following the passage and signing of the bill in New Hampshire, a state Senator introduced legislation that could bring marriage equality to Pennsylvania.

Read UUA President, William G. Sinkford’s remarks on the New Hampshire marriage law, and watch the video of Governor John Lynch on this historic occasion.

Click here to send a letter thanking Governor Lynch and the courageous lawmakers who made marriage equality possible in New Hampshire.

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.