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!
A very thoughtful piece by Delegate Steve Shannon that appeared in the Connection Newspapers yesterday reviews the potential for far-reaching unintended consequences from passage of Ballot Question #1 and advises “voters should reject Ballot Question #1 in November.”
Shannon points out the irony that, as drafted, the proposed amendment is an invitation to judicial activism and undemocratic in its ultimate effect:
Since the language first appeared in a conference report — the last day of the 2005 legislative session — constitutional scholars and legal practitioners have struggled to discern a clear meaning of these two sentences. The difficulty is that many of the terms used are not previously defined in our laws with meaningful specificity. Ask 100 people to define the “effects” of marriage or the “significance” of marriage, and you will probably hear 100 different answers.
Confusion over comparable constitutional language can be seen in Ohio, where the courts are wrestling with the issue of whether unmarried domestic violence victims are still entitled to the protection of the state’s domestic violence laws. Ohio trial courts have weighed in with differing decisions, and the issue is now pending with the Ohio Supreme Court, which has yet to render a decision.
If enacted, the untested language in the last two sentences of Ballot Question #1 may lead to unintended public policies being made through judicial decisions. The amendment certainly will leave our citizens without a uniform understanding of rules in important areas such as estate planning and domestic violence protections. Many businesses will be hesitant when considering the types of permissible benefits available to employees.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, citizens will lose their right to petition the legislature to remedy any unintended consequences quickly, as is done perennially with so many of Virginia’s statutes.
David Boaz from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, wrote a strong oped that appeared in the Washington Examiner this morning. The piece was written in response to the Examiner’s editorial favoring the amendment.
Boaz takes on all the shibboleths, including “activist judges,” and concludes that the amendment is nothing more than “bait and switch.”
He then goes on to appeal to the best in all of us:
This amendment goes too far. But even its first sentence — the ban on gay marriage — is unworthy of a state that was the birthplace of American freedom. It is a cruel irony that this amendment to restrict contract rights and exclude loving couples from the institution of marriage is to be added to Virginia’s Bill of Rights, a document originally written by the great Founder George Mason.
Mason’s eloquent words inspired Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence and James Madison in writing the Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution. We should not add language to Virginia’s Bill of Rights that would limit rights rather than expand them.
Gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, and there’s no prospect of changing that in the foreseeable future, whether by legislative or judicial action. Ballot Question No. 1 is unnecessary and will create legal uncertainty.
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.
Head on over to Vivian Paige’s blog and you’ll find this week’s My Turn from Joel Rubin, On the Record at WVEC. There Joel will tell you why he’s voting NO on NOvember 7th.
Watch the debate that was held at George Mason University on October 26th.
Found some interesting stuff out there, some new some old:
Vivian Paige reprints her OpEd that appeared in the VA Pilot here. Speaking from her vantage point as an African American lesbian, Vivian comments on the use of the Bible to justify writing discrimination into the Virginia constitution and concludes: “Vote No on Ballot Question 1. We should not allow discrimination against anyone to be written into our Bill of Rights.”
Craig’s Musing, Why I Do Not Support the Marriage Amendment
If you haven’t done so, listen to Bob Marshall (sponsor, Marshall/Newman Amendment) Debate Evan Wolfson (Freedom to Marry) at UVA, October 5, Virginia Podcasting Network
Great article and comments about the amendment on Leesburg Today site.
Survey USA poll shows uncertainty abounds, certain NOS up.
In a lengthy editorial published this morning, the conservative Richmond Times Dispatch opined: “On this amendment, as written, we incline against.”
The editorial asks two questions: is the amendment necessary? will it accomplish what is intended? The answers to both are no.
“First, Is the amendment necessary? The answer: Probably not — not now.”
The TD points out that gay marriage and civil unions are already illegal in Virginia and that the Federal Defense of Marriage Law protects Virginia from any forced application of other states laws that conflict with ours.
“Second, What would the amendment accomplish? The answer: Probably not what is intended.”
The TD points out that contrary to getting judges out of the business of defining marriage, the amendment, as proposed, has exactly the opposite effect:
“If adopted, would the amendment enable the most mischievous judges to find in the amendment’s second and third sentences whatever meanings they might choose? In seeking to make it more difficult for judges to invalidate Virginia’s laws regarding marriage — laws not under current onslaught — would the amendment actually make it more difficult for the legislature to correct a wacky judiciary’s crazy spins on the amendment’s language?”
Like The Commonwealth Coalition itself editorial opinion around the state is divided in its reasons for doing so but united in saying NO to Ballot Question #1!
Whether you are for full marriage equality or merely against messing around with our constitution in ways that will result in nothing more than litigation and unbridled judicial intervention in our most private decisions, one thing is clear: the right answer to Ballot Question #1 is NO, NO, NO, a million times NO.