At a press conference in Richmond yesterday, 280 clergy from around Virginia and across faith disciplines announced their opposition to Ballot Question #1.
The clergy who signed the Statement represent diverse traditions and every corner of the state.
Among the signers were clergy from Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian, Jewish, Lutheran, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
Metropolitan Community, Mennonite, and Brethren traditions.
The press conference was sponsored by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and Jews for Justice. People of Faith for Equality in Virginia was formed in 2005 to fight discrimination and work for equality in local faith communities and across Virginia, particularly with regard to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.
Jews for Justice has been working to educate the faith community and Virginians generally about efforts such as Ballot Question #1 to undermine legal protections for vulnerable families and individuals in Virginia. Both organizations are members of The Commonwealth Coalition.
Speakers at the press conference included the following clergy:
Rev. Dr. Davis Yeuell, President, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia; former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias
Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Richmond
Rev. Kelly Sisson, Pastor, Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists),
Rev. Dr. David Ensign, Pastor Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Arlington
Yeuell, President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias, reading from the Clergy Statement, said that Ballot Question #1 violates the call to justice and fairness that is a moral imperative shared by our faith traditions.
The clergy emphasized that as clergy they believed that the proposed amendment will not protect any marriages. It will cause undue hardship and harm to the families of unmarried couples in Virginia.
As religious leader,” Yeuell said, “we affirm the dignity of all persons and value the welfare of all loving and committed families regardless of their legal status. … There is no place in our faith communities or within our Commonwealth for an amendment that punishes — punishes — unmarried couples and their children.”
The Rev. Kelly Sisson, pastor of Glade Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists) in Blacksburg said, “The Religious Loud have trumpeted a hollow message of fear and threats that would have us believe our marriages and our faith are in jeopardy. … A marriage that is so fragile it needs this Marshall/Newman Amendment to offer that marriage security needs counseling, not a change in a 220-year-old document.”
Ballot Question #1 is bad law supported by bad theology,” stated The Rev. Dr. David Ensign, pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington. “To support the amendment in the name of a narrow and restricted understanding of marriage drawn from an impoverished reading of scripture is bad theology,” he continued
“Why are we being asked by our government to focus on this issue when there are so many other issues that require our attention?” asked The Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. “We have so many issues other than this one that truly affect marriage.”
In the Clergy Statement and in their individual remarks, the clergy also noted their pastoral concern about Ballot Question #1’s effects on families in times of crisis who may be excluded from certain legal protections because they are not headed by a married couple.
They expressed concern that courts may be unable to adequately protect unmarried victims of domestic violence or to enforce child custody and visitation agreements among unmarried couples.
They also cited concern about challenges to advanced medical directives and the likelihood of extended legal battles over rights at times of acute need.
“I think of a couple who have lived in a monogamous committed relationship for more than three decades but as one partner faces his last hours in a hospital room, the other is held outside denied access while a court decides if the law applies to him.” Rev. Kelly Sisson said.
If you’ve got an hour to spend, watch Mark Levine debate the amendment on his Inside Scoop show. You’ll definitely learn something about the amendment and about debating!
Yesterday Lowell at Raising Kaine posted a diary where he shared the stories of several Virginians who were concerned that the possible passage of the Marshall/Newman Amendment – Ballot Question 1 – would drive good Virginians from the Commonwealth.
I know that Virginians are concerned that our leaders in the General Assembly have placed us on the wrong path. I know that they are concerned for their futures, and I know that they are sad to see our Commonwealth consider the enactment of a law which will discriminate against their fellows, rather than include all of us as equals in society.
I’ve lived in Virginia nearly all my life. I love this place, and my profession would make it difficult to move. But damn, sometimes it’s tough.
I maintain because I know so many people of good will in this state – Republicans and Democrats – who understand that orientation has nothing to do with ability or worth.
I maintain because I know that this state’s history is unique in the nation. Virginia chartered America’s liberties, then worked most strongly to restrict them, and finally began the process to redeem itself by electing a leader from the ranks of the formerly disenfranchised. Virginia is America.
I maintain because I know that even my opponents know that human rights will not be denied, and that love and aspirations cannot be contained.
People – friends of mine – have left Virginia since 2004 because of the relentless assault upon honest, hardworking, productive Virginians which has been perpetrated by the right wing cabal led by Bob Marshall, Steve Newman and Kathy Byron. No Virginian sued to legalize same-sex marriage. No Delegate or Senator introduced a bill to do so. No judge ruled that it was possible. And yet these ideologues chose to disparage productive Virginians and endanger the well-being and relationships of every unmarried citizen, all for political gain.
This makes me angry, but it doesn’t make me despair. I know that this amendment will fail because Virginians – a conservative people – do not want government to interfere in their families.
I know this amendment will fail because Virginians – a proud people – do not want to stain their Bill of Rights with a statement of intolerance.
And, I know this amendment will fail because we – true Virginians – have had enough. We’re going to make certain that we do all we can to get our voters to the polls on November 7, to vote down this mean-spirited and harmful amendment.
Vote No. Vote No for yourself, and Vote No for your fellow Virginians. We all deserve nothing less.
Letters to the editor in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch ….
Commentary, Judge Not; Rather, Understand by John W. Priddy, Salem physician from the Roanoke Times, September 8:
Opposition to the proposed marriage amendment against gay and civil unions in Virginia is not limited to “godless” liberals. An evangelical Christian and Baptist, once a young Republican, I join many believers who firmly oppose the amendment. This should give pause to those who crafted this amendment on political grounds; as such it is like a house built upon sand. Should it pass, it will surely one day be repealed, for we have learned well that fairness and justice ultimately prevail.
This is a bad amendment, denying our inalienable pursuit of happiness and certain legal and financial privileges to gays and those who elect civil union over marriage. The precedent is a threat to all Virginians. Who will be next?
People of faith can rally against the marriage amendment, because this is a straightforward civil rights issue. On this issue alone the amendment should never have passed committee. There were prophetic voices in opposition, but they were overpowered, and the course was set for the abuse of sacred Scripture and defamation of our constitution, all for the purpose of denying rights to Virginians. Now it is up to the fair-minded and reasonable to correct this course.
Voices from around Virginia, from different walks of life … united in saying NO.
Jaded JD said he wasn’t going to write about the Marshall/Newman Amendment again, but he did. And, because he says he’s going to shut down his blog and go away forever soon, I’m reproducing his post in its entirety here so that it will be available if he really goes away and doesn’t change his mind about that, too. (Please do, JD!)
Mawage: Mawage is what bwings us togefer today; mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam….
I know I said I had nothing more to say about the proposed constitutional amendment to ban civil recognition of same-sex relationships in Virginia, but I do have some questions I have not seen addressed yet.
1. Proponents of the amendment say that the amendment would do nothing more than constitutionalize existing statutory law. If that is true, why is the verbiage different? Compare:
A marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited. Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created by such marriage shall be void and unenforceable. A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable.
Va. Code Ann. Secs. 20-45.2 and 20-45.3.
[O]nly a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.
Ballot Question No. 1.
2. The amendment purports to be a pre-emptive action against “activist judges.” Presumably, proponents are aware of the Supremacy Clause, granting federal law supremacy over state law, and Hunter v. Martin’s Lessee and Cooper v. Aaron, holding that federal courts supersede states on question of federal law. Therefore, the Virginia constitution–and the proposed amendment to it–will only protect the proponents’ position on civil recognition of same-sex relationships in state courts considering issues of state law, and the ultimate arbiter of issues of state law is the Supreme Court of Virginia. Which members of that court do proponents consider to be activist judges?
3. Virginia 4 Marriage and its constituent organizations say that the amendment will not adversely affect domestic violence protections, contracts, wills, and hospital visitation (and I agree with much of this interpretation). Do Virginia 4 Marriage and its constituent organizations commit to opposing as amici curiae any cause of action brought seeking to extend the amendment to adversely affect those perquisites?
4. In addressing the amendment, proponents often cite their view that activist judges will eventually extend social recognition to other types of relationships.
[E]ach person must meet five criteria in order to get married:
1. You cannot already be married.
2. You must be an adult and marry an adult.
3. You cannot marry a close family member.
4. You must marry a human.
5. Your spouse must be of the opposite sex.
Why doesn’t the proposed amendment ban incestuous marriage? Or marriage between an adult and a minor? (By the way, the second criterion is not an accurate statement of current Virginia law. See Va. Code Ann. Secs. 20-48 and 20-49.)
5. Proponents believe that gay men and women are entitled to marry–as long as they marry a member of the opposite sex. “In reality, homosexuals have the exact same right to marry as we all do.” Does that mean two married heterosexuals love each other as little (in that marital way) as a gay man would love a heterosexual woman?
6. “A loving and compassionate society will always come to the aid of motherless and fatherless families, but a loving and compassionate society will never deliberately create them. Same-sex couples intentionally deny children either a mother or a father, and children need both to develop into healthy adults. Males and females parent differently, and these differences are essential in helping a child grow into a healthy adult.” Children with one or more gay parents are not deprived of a biological mother or a biological father. In fact, children seem to be a bit of a red herring in a marriage argument, rather than an adoption argument, because children don’t arise from sex-same relationships; they arise from heterosexual relationships. And the last time I checked, a man and a woman could produce a child without being married. But, since the amendment proponents raised the red herring of an issue first, aren’t those social and political forces that want to separate children from their biological, homosexual parent the same forces creating a motherless or fatherless family? Therefore, by the proponents’ own definition, aren’t such social and political forces neither loving nor compassionate?
In an oped published in papers around the Commonwealth this week (for example, the Staunton News Leader and the Virginian Pilot), Dr. Julian Bond, chair of the Board of the NAACP, says that the NAACP opposes the Marshall/Newman Amendment and that it should be defeated!
From the Roanoke Times:
Standing before a crowd recently at Hollins Road Baptist Church in Roanoke, Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation of Virginia, which is pushing for the measure’s passage, said the term mischaracterizes the proposed amendment.
“It sounds like it is putting forward gay marriage instead of preventing it,” Cobb said. “Uninformed voters could read gay marriage amendment and assume it is put forward to support gay marriage. That essentially turns a ‘yes’ vote into a ‘no’ vote.”
I didn’t figure folks were that dumb. Cobb would much rather see this amendment be called, as it says further down in the article, the “Affirmation of Marriage” amendment. We here call it the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which is a neutral term simply using the names of the legislators who sponsored it. If Marshall-Newman reflects badly on the amendment, it must reflect badly on Delegate Marshall also.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the “affirmation of marriage” means taking away rights for gays and unmarried couples. How is it “affirming” marriage when bar loving couples from marrying (on top of other bans)? Marriages too weak to survive gay couples getting married have, alas, other issues.
“What would I call it? The fear amendment,” said Sam Garrison, a retired Roanoke lawyer who opposes the amendment. “The whole thing is about people being afraid for the new world.”
That’s rather accurate also. These times, they are a-changing. The fight for equality for all is an exorable march forward. Eventually, one day, equality will win.
Sooner or later, it always does.