Four years after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom briefly permitted same-gender marriages in his city in open defiance of a statewide ban, the California Supreme Court finally weighed in on the matter today by overturning the voter-approved measure and paving the way for California to become the second state, behind Massachusetts, where same-gender marriage is legal.
The court said the state's law "limiting the designation of marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional."
In the 120-page ruling, the court concluded, "There can be no doubt that extending the designation of marriage to same-sex couples, rather than denying it to all couples, is the equal protection remedy that is most consistent with our state's general legislative policy and preference."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, said he is pleased by the court's decision.
"I am gratified by the decision of the courts in California to reject discrimination and affirm the dignity of same gender couples," Thomas said. "As recent decisions in other states makes clear, until all couples are able to marry, their separate status will never be equal status."
Five UCC congregations in California -- Community UCC of Atascadero, Mt. Hollywood Congregational UCC, Parkside Community UCC in Sacramento, Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad and United Church of Christ in Simi Valley – as well as UCC-related Pacific School of Religion, joined an interfaith amicus brief filed earlier this year in support of the ban's overturn.
|The Rev. Art Cribbs, pastor of San Marino (Calif.) UCC, speaks at celebration following court ruling.|
After the court decision was announced, several UCC members in California responded positively to the news.
"As both a gay man and a Christian church professional, I am thrilled that the California Supreme Court has had the wisdom to recognize that we all should have the rights and responsibilities that go along with being married," said Phil Porter, minister of art and communication at First Congregational UCC in Berkeley, Calif. "My church would conduct a ceremony for my partner and I any time I might choose, but how glorious that it might now even stand up in court!"
The Rev. Kevin A. Johnson, pastor of Bloom in the Desert Ministries (UCC/United Methodist) in Palm Springs, Calif., emphasized that today's ruling is a continuation of the ways in which marriage has been redefined for the better over the centuries.
"Because of the positive ruling today in California, progress continues," Johnson said. "Marriage equality for all continues our historical progress toward recognizing that love and responsibility are the keys to quality marriages, not unfair laws based on racial integrity, which were struck down in 1967 but remained in some states until 2000, and sexual orientation, like we have now."
In 2005, the UCC General Synod overwhelmingly affirmed a resolution in support of same-gender marriage equality, urging its congregations "to prayerfully consider and support local, station and national legislation to grant equal marriage rights to couples regardless of gender." As a result of the Synod's 2005 action, it too became a signatory in the brief before the California court.
The UCC has 244 churches and 36,000 members in California.
"This is great news," said the Rev. Ruth Garwood, executive director of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns. "Relationships need all the support that they can get. This is why it's important to have the state's recognition of the blessing that God has already given."
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC's minister for LGBT concerns in Cleveland, said, "Marriage is about relationships, and the movement toward marriage equality has come in large measure because same-gender, loving relationships have been made increasingly real and visible."
Learn more at ucc.org/lgbt/marriage.