Prop 8 Ruling: Reflections from Rev. Lindi Ramsden

These words come from Rev. Lindi Ramsden, the director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California. Rev. Ramsden is pictured here speaking at a press conference yesterday.

Today was a sad day for California’s constitution and marked a setback for our state Supreme Court. While the principle of a majority vote is an important part of the melody of democracy, without the tonic and grounding notes that protect the rights of minorities from the fears and tyranny of the majority, our song is discordant, and our democracy disfigured.

Last May the Court eloquently ruled that marriage was more than a bundle of rights and responsibilities, and that all couples must be treated equally. During the oral arguments in March, I was surprised to hear some of the justices, in their effort to protect parts of their previous decision in the face of Proposition 8, pulling back to imply that marriage is but a word.

We know that marriage is more than a word, and that equality matters now as much as it did then. The good news is that those of us who were blessed to be able to legally marry during the short window of opportunity will continue to live our lives out loud. California’s skies will not fall, pigs won’t fly and hell won’t freeze and the presence of married same sex couples will live out what is possible to a world that would deny their commitment. In the absence of dire predictions, hope will blossom and those couples now denied their right to marry will be granted that possibility in some new day. And that day will come.

California must now be a leader in overturning such a blot on our constitution. The conversation and campaign in California will ripple out beyond our state and beyond marriage. Together we will see the day when men and women serving in our armed forces can safely receive the support of their loved ones without losing their jobs. We will see the day when youth are safe in school. We will see the day when the religious doctrines of some are not used to deny the rights of others. We will win the freedom to marry for all couples who want to pledge a life of mutual accountability and support. We will get there by standing shoulder to shoulder with others who are also in need, and by leading with the Spirit of Love.

It would have been a blessing if the Court had fully reaffirmed equal protection before the law. Clearly, there is more work to be done. Love will guide us.

Be well.

UUA President Decries CA Court’s Marriage Ruling

Earlier today, William G. Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, issued the following statement in response to the California Supreme Court decision upholding Proposition 8.

I am deeply troubled that the discrimination Proposition 8 introduced into the California constitution last fall has been upheld today, barring future marriages between same-sex couples. While I expected the narrow, technical reasoning behind the California Supreme Court’s decision, still I grieve for the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whose rights and dignity have been under assault since the passage of Proposition 8.

It is my earnest hope that the spirit of fairness sweeping the country this spring ultimately will prevail in California, where thousands of legally married same-sex couples will continue to bear witness to the vital importance of this basic civil right. Every day more and more Americans are choosing to stand on the side of love with these brave families, and I pray that the citizens and lawmakers of California will join them.

This video was produced by the Human Rights Campaign. Permission to use “I Won’t Back Down” graciously provided by singer Dawn Landes and original composer Tom Petty.

Taking Personal Stories to Capitol Hill

Guest blogger Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum is Minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty in Clarklake, MI. You can read more about her experience at the HRC Clergy Call on her blog Rev. Cyn

This was the first time I ever went to Capitol Hill to lobby, so I approached the situation with a great deal of nervous excitement. The Human Rights Campaign suggested that we bring along letters of testimonial or support from members of our congregation. I asked my local congregation for letters, as well as my local PFLAG chapter. I received nine letters, to which I added one of my own, to make an even ten. Six were from members of my congregation—four from gay and lesbian members, two from supporters. Two of the others were from gay and lesbian members of our community, and the last was from a man whose same-sex marriage I performed when I was a minister in Massachusetts.

The letters from the seven gay and lesbian people I received told of instances in their lives of discrimination—being harassed publicly, being physically beaten or threatened with violence, being discriminated against in the workplace. One member of my congregation told of people she has known, gay men who took their own lives because of the horrible bullying and harassment they had been facing. She writes, “I had another friend who was teased all through Junior and Senior high school about what his sexual orientation would be and he… sat on the railroad tracks and let the train hit him.” Her partner writes, “We are separate & not equal. We are murdered.” One of the supporters who wrote a letter wrote of one of the terrible stories of this area, one that should not be forgotten, but already is being forgotten, as a Google search will bring up nothing of this story:

Seven Adrian men were arrested and tried for supposed homosexual activity in a local park on what turned out to be very questionable evidence. Police actually dug foxholes and used night photography to try to catch them… In a community of that size, and considering several of these men had families, the result for them was catastrophic.

The man whose marriage I performed in Massachusetts writes, “Because we are gay, we are publicly asked to deny our marriage on federal forms.” That little sentence, about being forced to deny his husband, spoke volumes to me.

Through these letters, I learned much more about my congregation members than I had known before. I knew that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people face discrimination and even violence. I didn’t, however, know about the individual instances of violence that people I know and care deeply for had faced.

When I took these letters in to our senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and to my congressman, Mark Schauer, I wanted to make sure these voices were heard. Too often, I am sure, papers that are handed to the staff members of senators and congressmen are tossed into a pile, at best, or a trash can, at worst. So I took a few moments and read some of the stories of violence that these Michigan voters had faced, to make sure that it was understood that the Matthew Shepard Act is an important piece of legislation that will make a real difference in people’s lives in this state that these legislators serve.

What I saw in the eyes of the staff members, and my congressman, was that they were deeply moved by hearing these stories. Hearing the stories made an impact on them. They took the copies of the letters with great care, thankful for having them. One of the senator’s staff members said how important it was to the senator to have stories like this to share as the legislation was being debated and voted on. The congressman’s staff member wanted very much to have the original copies to hold and share. (Fortunately, I had brought them.) And Congressman Mark Schauer said personally how meaningful it was to him to have met Matthew Shepard’s mother when she came to Congress.

Our senators and congressmen and congresswomen meet a lot of lobbyists. They get asked to vote for and against a lot of things by a lot of people. They get a lot of paper pushed into their hands. But what I learned in going to Capitol Hill is that when they get the rare opportunity to listen to real people’s stories and see how legislation that they work on makes a real and significant difference in these lives, they listen, and they care.

I am so thankful for the members of my community for sharing those stories with me. They made a difference to me, and I believe they will make a difference to this nation.

Is this Heaven? No, It’s Iowa!

Congratulations to ALL citizens of Iowa! The State Supreme Court of Iowa ruled today that section 595.2 in the Iowa Code limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution, and pending the period allowed for appeals, it ordered county recorders to begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that request them.

All language in Iowa Code section 595.2 defining civil marriage as the union between only a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner that allows same-sex couples full access to the institution of civil marriage. (Read the full decision here)

This morning’s announcement brought to mind that lovely scene in “Field of Dreams”:

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella
: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella
: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
Ray Kinsella
: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella
: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray Kinsella
: Maybe this is heaven.

Read more here:
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal.
A joint statement on the decision from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy.
UUA President William G. Sinkford’s statement celebrating this remarkable victory.

California Supreme Court Case on Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case challenging Proposition 8, which was passed by a majority of California voters in the November elections. The case was brought by two groups of same-sex couples and by a group of local governments including San Francisco. It centers on the idea that although the measure was drafted as a constitutional amendment, it actually goes beyond the rights of voters by denying a fundamental right granted by the court to a traditionally marginalized group.

The plaintiffs contend that Prop 8 not only changes the California State Constitution, but violates its core principle of equality and thus constitutes a revision to the constitution rather than an amendment. In order to revise the constitution, California requires a two-thirds vote of the State Legislature or the approval of delegates to a constitutional convention. The outcome of the case will also determine the fate of 18,000 same sex marriages that occurred legally between May and November of 2008.

So far, according to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, the court seems likely to uphold Proposition 8 but also to specify that couples who were legally married before the passage of Prop 8 will remain so. As quoted by the Chronicle, Therese Stewart, the chief deputy city attorney in San Francisco states, “A guarantee of equality that is subject to exceptions by the majority is no guarantee at all”.

The Unitarian Universalist Association filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF, 56 pages) with the California Supreme Court on January 14, 2009, asking the court to invalidate Proposition 8 as it poses a severe threat to the guarantee of equal protection for all and was not enacted through the constitutionally required process for such a dramatic change to the California Constitution. Click here to read more about Unitarian Universalist advocacy for marriage equality

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Califorina continues to have a huge impact in the state’s struggle for marriage equality. The court’s ruling is due within 90 days, which coincides with many Gay Pride celebrations across the U.S. and worldwide. We hope that same sex couples and advocates of marriage equality will indeed have something to celebrate.

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

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 be a Family

Zach Walls is a senior at West High in Iowa City, Iowa. When he graduates this spring, Zach plans to spend a year in Germany with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange before attending the University of Iowa. You can read about him in this article from his local paper, the Iowa Press-Citizen.

I remember it pretty clearly. I was playing with a friend at my house, I was four or so, and I burst into my mom’s room screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! Where’s Daddy?” I was sooo confused.

She sat me down and explained in-vitro fertilization to me, but I didn’t really understand until I was in my later elementary school years. Through seventh grade I lied about having a dad. I told people that he took me skiing and the like every so often. Complete fabrication. I’ve never met Donor 1033 and probably never will.

It wasn’t until my eighth grade year that I began to hear about the problems that certain people had with my family structure. I remember watching the 2004 Republican National Convention at school and listening to all these straight white men bash homosexuals and their families. I took notes on all the things that these people said, compiled a list of flaws in their arguments and presented them in class when the convention was finally finished. My notes were filled with words of immense hatred directed at the gay community: that same-sex marriage is un-American, that it threatens the sanctity of marriage (but Britney Spears doesn’t?), that it’s unethical, that it will lead to polygamy, that it will lead to bestiality, that it’s harmful to kids.

I took personal offense at the last one. Mom, my biological mother, and Jackie, her partner of twelve years, are damn good parents. Of course our family isn’t perfect: my sister and mom fight like mothers and daughters will; Jackie incessantly reminds me to do my chores; the dog barks at other dogs.

To argue that same-sex couples can’t raise children who go on to become productive members of society seemed simply ridiculous. In the eighth grade I thought I was really smart. I was twelve. I had taken accelerated classes in elementary school. I knew everything. For these people who had never met me, who didn’t know me and didn’t want to know me, to insult me and my family, was outrageous. It made me angry and I took up the traditional liberal line of resenting and opposing intolerance.

It wasn’t until a few years down the road that I began to think I might have it wrong. Sure, there are people who hate me (a straight, white, male, for the record), hate my family and hate everything we are. But that’s their prerogative.

I can’t truly understand why they feel the way they do, but I can see how they would potentially arrive there. We are often afraid of what we do not understand and if we are unwilling to make an attempt at understanding, there is little hope for reconciliation. I remember the words and wisdom of Yoda, who was way smarter than he is given credit for. He counsels, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

My anger has ebbed. I still fight for the advancement of civil rights for homosexuals and will gladly debate an opponent when the issue is raised, but I have come to understand that I cannot hate somebody for simply holding a particular belief. It is as Dr. King once said, “Darkness cannot extinguish darkness. Only light can do that.”

So I’m going to let my light shine and work and fight, but I will not succumb to the hate and anger that people may try to bait me into. That’s the easy way out. It is much more difficult to try to understand and love and resolve differences. But it’s worth it. It is most assuredly worth it.

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.