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.
In today’s Richmond Times Dispatch, Delegate Dwight C. Jones, Jr.described Ballot Question #1 as a “gimmick” and an effort to divert people of faith from “the hard work necessary to address the truly important and pressing problems of the day.” Here’s some of his message:
There is no need to vote yes on Ballot Question No. 1 simply to pass another law making what’s already illegal more illegal. And there is no need to put language in our Constitution that has significant potential for unintended consequences, particularly when to do so sets us on the path of affirming that it is OK to use the Virginia Constitution to take away rights — a path that could lead right back to our door.
THERE IS no question that the institution of marriage is in trouble and that families, particularly families in the African-American community, are in need of spiritual renewal and focused community support. My faith teaches me that marriage is a sacred institution reserved to one man and one woman, and I have no doubt that it is important to the health of our communities and to our children that we do all we can to shore up both marriage and families. But we need to remember this instruction from the New Testament: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Marriage is an institution of God, and no secular law can threaten nor define that which is of divine design.
We also need to be clear that this amendment is not the panacea, the cure-all, for the ills in our society that many of its advocates claim — and I take umbrage that this political issue has been characterized as an issue of faith.
This amendment is nothing more than a gimmick intended to divert people of faith and all Virginians, including our elected officials, from the difficult work we need to do to address the real issues that threaten families and marriages in our communities — homelessness and lack of affordable housing, poverty, crime, lack of education, lack of economic investment and development, inadequate health care, and transportation policies that continue to focus on moving cars and not people.
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.
In an oped that appeared in the Newport News Daily Press yesterday, the co-ministers of the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist Church wrote that today they’ll plant a sign in their yard announcing their opposition to Ballot Question #1, the proposed Marshall/Newman amendment.
Why have they taken this very public step? Here’s what they said:
We have not stepped into this controversy simply to uphold abstract values. When we say “we,” we mean a church that includes gay people. The straight people and gay people in our church take care of one another – listening compassionately to stories of pain and loss, helping out when illness or other misfortune strikes, celebrating successes, worshipping together, raising families together, and building a church community together. We are neighbors in the particulars of daily existence. If your neighbors were attacked, would you turn away, or would you stand with them? How could love of your neighbor call for anything less?
In the present controversy, we ask ourselves, “who is our neighbor?” Our faith tradition gives us a clear, resounding answer: all people – with no one left out, no one belittled, no one cast outside the circle of blessing. We reach out to our gay brothers and sisters throughout Virginia as neighbors who are threatened by a law born of fear and hatred. And we reach out to you as neighbors, asking for your public declaration and your vote on November 7 – against the marriage amendment and in favor of values we can all embrace as sacred: the power of promising, the holiness of marriage, and the blessings that flow from loving our neighbors. Amen.
They are not alone … The Commonwealth Coalition has as its members a growing number of congregations and faith communities that have united around one word … that word is NO.
NO to writing discrimination into our founding document, the first in the world to protect individual rights against the government.
NO to authorizing further government intrusion into our faith traditions and our private lives.
NO to the intended and unintended consequences of this proposal for ALL unmarried Virginians.