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Unitarian Universalists decry Calif. gay marriage ruling

State Supreme Court 'takes away rights,' says UU minister arrested at protest in San Francisco.
By Donald E. Skinner
6.1.09

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The Rev. Gregory Stewart (Claire Bohman)

The Rev. Gregory Stewart (right), senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, was arrested during a protest that blocked traffic outside the California Supreme Court building hours after the court upheld Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. (Claire Bohman)

Unitarian Universalists in California expressed dismay at the State Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld a voter referendum that banned same-sex marriages even as the court allowed about 18,000 same-sex marriages performed before the ban to remain valid. Several Unitarian Universalists were arrested at a protest in San Francisco outside the court building a few hours after the court released its decision May 26.

The court upheld Proposition 8, which voters approved in November 2008 and which restricts the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples and prevents same-sex couples from marrying.

More than 170 people were arrested in San Francisco on May 26 when they staged a sit-down that blocked a major intersection. Among them were two Unitarian Universalist ministers: the Rev. Gregory Stewart, senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, and the Rev. Denis Paul, outreach minister for the Faithful Fools street ministry. Stewart said he was held about four hours.

In a prepared statement, Stewart said, “Words fail to express the sadness—and even despair—that comes as a result of today’s ruling by California’s Supreme Court, one that takes away rights already granted to its GLBT citizens. The pain for me is still quite raw as I think about the same gender couples I have married, and especially about those I have yet to marry who now must travel far and wide to find the freedom to marry.”

The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the UU Legislative Ministry, California, which organized UUs last year in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Proposition 8, said, “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,” Ramsden said, “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.”

UUA President William G. Sinkford issued a statement from Boston. “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,” Sinkford said. “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. ”

The UU Legislative Ministry is one of several groups that are organizing a meeting May 30 in Fresno to plan the marriage equality movement’s next steps. Ramsden said, “We recognize that in the Prop. 8 struggle we wrote off the conservative Central Valley and that was a mistake. This is where hearts need to be changed.”

Ramsden will be one of many people who will walk 14.5 miles from Selma, Calif., to Fresno. She said, “We will be walking through small rural towns that have suffered, not only in the current economic downturn, but for generations. In the midst of my own pain, I want to make a stronger connection with those who toil in the fields, who face low wages, little respect, and threats to family unity.”

“There is currently a ballot measure in circulation in California that would deny a birth certificate to any child born in California if his or her mother is an undocumented immigrant,” Ramsden said. “The GLBT community knows what it means to have your family targeted by a ballot measure. When it comes to protecting children in our families, we must build understanding in multiple communities. We are all in this together.”

The next state where action could come on same-sex marriage is New Hampshire. The legislature authorized it in early May, but Gov. John Lynch refused to sign the measure unless specific religious protections were added to it. Thus far the legislature has not approved the wording he requested. If a measure is ultimately approved, New Hampshire would become the sixth state to approve same-sex marriage.

In Washington State, Gov. Chris Gregoire on May 18 signed legislation giving registered same-sex domestic partners all the rights and benefits that Washington now offers married couples.

The law will take effect July 26 unless opponents seeking to repeal it can collect enough signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot. Washington has a Defense of Marriage Act that limits marriage to one man and one woman.

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