Call Your Senators in Support of Hate Crimes Legislation

Today and tomorrow, please call you Senators at the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) and urge them to support the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is being offered as the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crime Amendment to S. 1391, the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act significantly improves our current hate crimes prevention laws. This bill expands the coverage of existing hate crime laws to include crimes based not only on race, color, religion, and national origin, but also crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

This bill does not infringe on freedoms of speech and religion, but provides the federal government jurisdiction to prosecute hate crimes where current law or local law enforcement actions are inadequate. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will protect people that are subjected to violence and intimidation just for being who they are.

The Senate is likely to vote on this bill before the end of the week. Please call your Senators TODAY and TOMORROW and ask them to pass the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crime Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill, S. 1391.

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.

Celebrate Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Pride!

Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender (BGLT) communities in Washington, DC and around the world are holding Pride Celebrations this month and throughout the Summer and Fall. On June 9th, members of over 20 different religious communities and faith-based organizations came together for the annual Pride Week Interfaith Service organized by the Celebration of the Spirit Coalition. The gathering included beautiful and heartfelt expressions of the love and inclusiveness inherent in many diverse religious traditions. Participants were identified as Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Bapitist, Buddhist and Wiccan, to name just a few. UU representatives included ministers and members from All Souls Church, Unitarian; Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church and the Universalist National Memorial Church. Capital Pride activities continue in DC this weekend with a parade on Saturday evening and a festival on Sunday.

The theme of the interfaith service this year examined the past, present and future of the struggle for rights and recognition for people whose gender identities and/or expressions or sexual orientations do not follow the heterosexual norm in this country. Participants honored our ancestors and those who did this work before us while we looked to the next generation for renewed strength and spiritual activism that will carry us into the next century.

The modern BGLT rights movement has roots in the work of activists in the 1950s and 60s, but is most often traced back to the Stonewall riots in New York in June 1969, where protesters confronted police who were conducting unconstitutional raids in bars. The yearly parade that commemorated this incident sparked a national grassroots movement, and Pride is now celebrated in many countries around the world. The celebrations aim to increase the visibility of BGLT people in their communities and to give all who participate a chance to come together in solidarity to combat oppression.

Last week, President Barack Obama released a proclamation declaring June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month” in the United States of America. This marks the first occaision that the White House has officially commemorated Gay Pride since the Clinton administration.

We salute President Obama’s efforts to further civil rights gains for BGLT persons internationally as well as within the United States. We hope sincerely that he works closely with Congress to keep his promises of finding a way to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to eliminate workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to recognize and protect same sex couples and their rights.

The Unitarian Universalist Association will continue to express our vision of a society where no one is terrorized, excluded or marginalized based on their identity or its expression. The UUA Washington Office for Advocacy and its staff will keep working to ensure that the laws and policies of this land are crafted in the spirit of respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

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

Same Sex Partners of U.S. Diplomats to Receive Benefits

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the State Department would begin offering benefits to the same sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Below are the reflections of Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who worked in many Foreign Service posts and whose partner received none of the benefits offered to heterosexual couples and families in the same positions. Read the New York Times article here.

For over 25 years I served the U.S. Government mostly overseas as an American Diplomat. I survived assassination attempts in Karachi, Pakistan and in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (from an assassin sent by Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor who now faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in the Hague.) I survived the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. However, through all those years there were never any provisions for same-sex partners. While we worked and risked our lives, we didn’t receive equal benefits for equal work.

Heterosexual families got travel, health and other benefits. Even dogs and cats had their transport paid for by the U.S. taxpayer for up to $3,000. Kids got their education paid for in posh private schools, while same-sex partners got nothing at all, including children of the same-sex partner — nothing.

After having served for 25 years, I retired. I get my health insurance and pension, but there is nothing for my spouse, Isaac Humphrie. We were married in Canada in 2006 while I was still an active employee at the Department of State. Our marriage received no recognition, so Isaac is not covered either by my pension nor my health insurance. Isaac lost his job last month at Balducci’s because they closed their stores in New York City. He has part-time employment with no health coverage.

Heterosexual diplomatic families receive tens of thousands of dollars in benefits every year while same sex families get less than the family dog or cat. It seems that this terrible inequity is about to change. It is about time and I hope that my retirement benefits can be adjusted so that Isaac can have health insurance and rights to my pension should I pass on. It is only fair to give employees of whatever sexual orientation or gender identity equal benefits for equal work to those received by heterosexual employees.

Many of America’s top industries have been providing equal benefits for equal work for years, decades. Many states and municipal governments also provide equal benefits for equal work. It is high time for the Federal Government to provide its employees equal benefits for equal work. I put my life on the line and risked death in the service of my country many times. I deserve the same benefits as other officers who have worked as hard and risked as much as I have. Most have worked far less and risked less, but receive many more benefits worth far more money than I have received. While the Department of State provides a $3,000 allowance recognizing the bonds of love and affection that people have for dogs and cats, it gave no allowance for same-sex couples. It is high time for the Department of State to provide same-sex families with the same benefits as opposite-sex families.

Advocacy and Witness Meets with White House

The day after the ruling upholding Proposition 8 came down from the California Supreme Court, I visited the White House for the first time since coming to UUA Washington Office over three years ago.  Rev. Meg Riley, Director of UUA’s Advocacy and Witness Programs (my boss) accompanied me.  We met with Paul Monteiro, the White House Office of Public Engagement’s Associate Director charged with creating partnerships with the faith community.  The meeting covered a lot of ground, but we began by clearly communicating our movement’s commitment to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.  We spoke about the work of the UU state advocacy networks, the UUA office of BGLT concerns, and, most importantly, our many congregations.

I shared the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress and highlighted the report card we issued on the Administration’s first 100 days.  We also discussed the OWL curriculum and the advocacy work many UUs are doing to support comprehensive sex-ed.  I even brought my computer and

showed him the promotion video I made for the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT).  I wanted him to see the faces and hear the voices of the young people who come all the way to  D.C. to lobby for comprehensive sex-ed.
We then discussed the role that Unitarian Universalism can play in the many important challenges our country is facing. We spoke of Van Jones’ Ware Lecture, and how it sparked a realization that Unitarian Universalism needs to shift from a movement focused on protesting to taking up the hard work of governing. Monteiro appreciated this shift and was clear that he felt religious groups were most powerful when we use our religious voice and moral authority.  Monteiro also lifted up the power of unlikely groups coming together to create change in their communities and said he is constantly searching for such stories.  So if you have any let me know (

Monteiro was already very familiar with Unitarian Universalism, having worked closely with many UU volunteers in Iowa during the campaign.  He was receptive to our legislative objectives and our commitment to work in community partnerships and we are in the process of scheduling further meetings and sharing more information. This meeting felt like a genuine  step forward in addressing the many issues Unitarian Universalists work and pray for every day.  While the UUA will not always walk side-by-side with the White House, I am convinced that we are both committed to sharing our respective directions and understanding what drives us forward.

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.