Ballot initiatives bring setbacks for same-sex couples

Ballot initiatives bring setbacks for same-sex couples

Unitarian Universalists disappointed in state election results limiting GLBT rights.


Even as progressive activists were cheering Barack Obama’s historic victory, activists for GLBT rights were mourning the erosion of equal marriage and parenting rights in four states. Unitarian Universalists had lobbied hard in California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas to defeat ballot initiatives that limited rights of same-sex couples and families.

UUA President William G. Sinkford issued an open letter to the UU community on November 6. “Our faith community will continue to fight for marriage equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he wrote. “We will continue to offer steadfast and passionate support for all bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people.”

Proposition 8 in California passed by a narrow margin, with 52 percent of voters casting ballots in favor of amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Hundreds of marriage equality supporters in California have taken to the streets in the days since the election protesting passage of the ban.

The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the UU Legislative Ministry of California Action Network Political Action Committee, which played a key role in organizing UUs in support of same-sex marriage, said two days after the election, “We’re still trying to absorb what happened. We’re trying to understand how rights that already existed could be taken away like this.”

She said UUs were “amazing” in the campaign, not only in California but across the nation. “They stepped forward and created phone banks and held informational protests and interfaith services. This was the first time a lot of congregations took a position on a ballot measure. Almost all of our 75 congregations in California were involved in some manner.”

“For children in same-sex families it’s terrifically confusing to understand that the larger community has voted to prohibit people like your parents from getting married,” she continued. “We’re not only in the middle of political analysis about this, we’re also in a pastoral care moment. It’s important for the straight community to demonstrate love and solidarity.”

As the final votes were counted Wednesday morning, opponents of the ban filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, asking them to overturn the measure. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the case.

The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group—lesbian and gay Californians. It also asserts that Proposition 8 improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of preserving minorities’ rights to equal protection of the law. According to the California Constitution, they argue, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

The Attorney General of California and the advocacy group Equality California assert that the marriages of the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who wed between June 16, 2008, and Election Day are still valid in California, which must therefore continue to honor them.

In Florida, the “Marriage Protection Amendment,” which bans all recognition of and benefits for unmarried couples, both straight and gay, was approved by 62 percent of voters. The measure needed 60 percent to pass. Gay marriage was already illegal in Florida, but the amendment goes even further to say that “no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Activists are concerned that the measure is so broad that it would curtail rights of elderly heterosexual couples in domestic partnerships, including the right to visit each other in the hospital.

“It’s been very disappointing,” said the Rev. Abhi P. Janamanchi, minister of UUs of Clearwater, Fla. “On the one hand, it is wonderful the national outcome was so good, but really disappointing about Amendment 2.”

The Obama campaign’s strong efforts to enroll a large number of African-American voters may have hurt efforts to defeat Amendment 2. African-American preachers spoke out strongly against equal marriage rights. And more than any other demographic group, African Americans voted for Amendment 2, with more than 71 percent voting to pass it, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

The afternoon after Election Day, Janamanchi met with a group of interfaith clergy that had opposed the initiative to discuss their next steps. The coalition, which had formed to fight the amendment, plans to stay together to find ways to promote marriage equality. For example, they plan to work with Equality Florida when that advocacy group introduces legislation to reverse the state’s gay- and lesbian-adoption ban. And they hope to persuade city governments to adopt ordinances that include protections for workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In addition, Janamanchi said that the interfaith group hopes to develop a broader interfaith clergy circle to develop understanding among faiths. “We hope that through those kinds of relations we would be able to reach out to more conservative clergy and dialogue with them,” Janamanchi said.

Arizona’s Proposition 102 passed with the support of 56 percent of voters. That measure will amend the state constitution to recognize marriage as limited to unions of one man and one woman. Arizona already has a law that prohibits same-sex marriage. The new amendment is designed to prevent a court ruling from allowing same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Dr. Ken Brown, district executive of the Pacific Southwest District, had been supporting UU efforts in both Arizona and California to fight the proposed marriage bans, and he knew it was an uphill battle in Arizona. Many donors and activists from Arizona were concentrating their efforts on California instead, believing it was more important to defeat the California measure.

In Arkansas, voters passed the “Unmarried Couple Adoption Ban,” making it illegal for any unmarried couple living together in the state to adopt children or serve as foster parents. Fifty-seven percent of voters approved the measure. Arkansas law and the state constitution both ban recognition of marriages between same-sex couples.

At the UU Church of Little Rock, which was a center of opposition to the ban, the Rev. Robert J. Klein said there is a widespread feeling of disappointment, tinged with hope that the ban will be struck down for constitutional reasons.

“We’ll keep working on trying to make this state and our community more accepting and more loving,” Klein said. “We’re certainly glad that Obama won. But it’s still an uphill battle, and we just keep going. We’re not at the promised land yet.”

Donald E. Skinner contributed to this story.

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