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The 'spiritual voice' for marriage equality in California

California Unitarian Universalists celebrate legislature's historic vote for marriage equality.
By Jane Greer
9.12.05

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Unitarian Universalist supporters of marriage equality in California remain optimistic even though a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state is almost certain to be vetoed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state senate passed the bill September 1 and the state assembly approved it five days later, making California’s legislature the nation’s first to vote for marriage equality. All that was needed for marriage equality to become law was the governor’s signature, but Schwarzenegger has said he will veto it.

California would have been the second state in the nation, after Massachusetts, to legalize marriage equality.

The fact that the legislature passed the bill remains significant, said the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry California. In Massachusetts, the marriage equality decision was made by the State Supreme Court, not the legislature.

Unitarian Universalists have played an important role in the California fight for marriage equality. Last February congregations sent 3,800 valentines with messages supporting marriage equality to Schwarzenegger, and 64 congregations held a “Standing on the Side of Love” Sunday service honoring all couples regardless of sexual orientation. The Legislative Ministry also helped organize two days of lobbying in April.

In October 2004, the Rev. John Millspaugh, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of South County, in Mission Viejo, and the Rev. Helen Carroll, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County, rode the Marriage Equality Express Caravan from Oakland, California, to Washington, D.C., with the first stop in Sacramento. Millspaugh and members of his congregation also visited state assembly member Tom Umberg’s office to gain his support for a similar measure in June. On Tuesday Umberg voted for marriage equality after abstaining from the June vote.

Said Ramsden, “We’ve been trying to give people the courage and the heart to do the right thing.”

Molly McKay, field director of Equality California, one of the moving forces behind the state’s marriage equality campaign, praised California UUs for their support, “UU congregations have been our backbone; the spiritual voice for our cause,” she said. “They have been the first line of non-gay people to be there, asking, ‘How can I help?’”

Unitarian Universalists have long supported equal rights for gays and lesbians, passing a resolution at the 1970 General Assembly calling for an end to job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1984, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations endorsed ceremonies of union for same-sex couples, and in 1996 called for the legalization of same-sex marriage. UU ministers have been performing same-sex union ceremonies for more than three decades.

Although deterred, California UUs are not discouraged, Ramsden says. “You can’t take away the vote that just happened. All of this will help when several of the same-sex marriage court cases wind themselves up to the state supreme court.” Ramsden advises caution, however, as a statewide “defense of marriage amendment” ballot initiative planned for 2006 could undo all of the gains recently made. “We can’t become complacent,” she said. “This ballot initiative is very serious. It could take decades to undo the damage if it passes.”

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