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UUA, UCC presidents rally for gay marriage in R.I.

Morales, Black urge Rhode Islanders to lobby their state senators after marriage equality bill passes the House.
By Michelle Bates Deakin

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Peter Morales

UUA President Peter Morales spoke at First Unitarian Church of Providence to urge Rhode Islanders to contact their state senators to lobby for marriage equality. (Eugene Dyszlewski)

The presidents of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ joined a rally of Rhode Islanders Sunday, April 7, urging them to push their legislators to create marriage equality in the Ocean State.

Speaking at First Unitarian Church of Providence, the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA, and the Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the UCC, joined together to inspire members of the liberal religious community to speak out. Rhode Island is on the verge of “joining the choir of change that is happening throughout this nation on this issue of marriage equality,” Black told the crowd assembled Sunday afternoon in the Providence church.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed marriage equality legislation by a vote of 51 to 19 in January. The state senate could vote on the measure this spring.

“Now is the time to call upon the senate of this state to make marriage equality the law of Rhode Island,” Morales said. “We UUs, and so many other people, are not going to rest until marriage equality is the law of the land.”

Morales also released a statement saying, “It is my fervent hope that Rhode Island will soon join with the rest of the New England states to allow the freedom to marry to all of its citizens. Regardless of how long this legislative battle takes, Unitarian Universalists will continue to stand on the side of love until the freedom to marry belongs to everyone.”

Members of First Unitarian have been fighting for marriage equality for two decades. The Rev. Thomas Ahlburn performed what is believed to be the first same-sex wedding ceremony in a Rhode Island church during his ministry there 20 years ago. The current minister, the Rev. James Ishmael Ford, led the congregation to a vote calling for marriage equality in 2010. The congregation's community minister for social justice, the Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski, is a familiar figure at the Rhode Island State House, working toward marriage equality. Dyszlewski also organized the Providence rally, where he urged the gathered to “stand up for love.”

Increasingly, the presidents of the UUA and the UCC have been working together on common causes, seeking a louder voice for liberal religion in the public sphere. Black joined Morales in June 2012 at the UUA General Assembly, leading worship and touring the infamous Tent City jail in Phoenix, Ariz., maintained by Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County. Black and Morales spoke at a candlelight vigil outside the jail calling for it to be shut down.

In November 2012, leaders of the UCC spent two days in Boston exploring ways the UUA and UCC might further partner with one another. In June, Morales plans to attend the UCC General Synod in Long Beach, Calif.

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