In response to an October 28 vote by the synod of the Hungarian Unitarian Church (HUC) to bless only those marriages between a man and a woman, a group of Unitarian Universalist leaders in North America—including the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association—issued a statement of “categorical support” for marriage equality, expressing “deep concern” about the synod’s vote.
But the statement also acknowledged what it says was “severe pressure” applied to the HUC, which is a tiny religious minority in Hungary and in Hungarian-speaking parts of Romania. The statement affirmed a commitment to remain in relationship with Hungarian Unitarians and invited North American UUs to “join us in holding in our hearts and prayers our Hungarian Unitarian siblings in this difficult moment.”
The oldest Unitarian communities in the world date back to the 1500s in Transylvania, which is now part of Romania. The HUC counts 25,000 members in 12 churches and 21 fellowships in Hungary and 60,000 members in 125 churches and 30 fellowships in Romania, according to the website of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.
Over 83 percent of the approximately 160 ministers and laypeople at the synod voted to support the declaration that the HUC will bless only those marriages valid under public law, according to a source present at the vote. In Romania and Hungary, civil law recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman. But the HUC affirmed the right of individual members to express their own opinions on the issue.
In 2016, during an effort to amend the Romanian Constitution to change the definition of marriage from being the union of two persons to the union of a man and a woman, the Rev. Dávid Gyero, the deputy bishop of the HUC, issued a statement affirming his personal support for marriage equality. The HUC did not make an official statement at that time.
In response to the synod’s October 28 vote, a group of UUs—including Frederick-Gray; the Rev. Sara Ascher, executive director of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU); the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, executive director of the UU Partner Church Council (UUPCC); and the Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the UUA’s International Office—issued “A Statement to the Global Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist (U/U) Community.”
“[W]e are profoundly saddened this anti-equality pronouncement has come from the HUC,” it said. While noting the cultural differences between the two traditions and stressing that North American UUs have no control over the HUC, “we felt we would be remiss if we did not express our deep concern for the HUC’s action and our categorical support for marriage equality, a position that we believe is rooted in foundational U/U principles,” it continued.
There are about 180 partnerships between North American UU congregations and congregations in other nations. About 80 percent of those partnerships involve churches in Transylvania or Hungary, according to Bertschausen.
“We do not believe this is a time to walk away from people within the HUC and allies in Romania and Hungary who are courageously standing up for marriage equality,” the statement added. “Our strategy will be to support and follow the leadership of Hungarian Unitarians who share our commitment to welcome and inclusion for all people. We intend to share engagement opportunities suggested by these leaders with U/U global partners and our member congregations.”