Written by Anthony Moujaes
Leaders from the United Church of Christ are ready to feel the love from California, now that Supreme Court of the United States cleared the way for marriage equality to return to the state. As members from across the church gather this week in Southern California for General Synod 2013, they’ll certainly have cause to celebrate the court’s ruling – and perhaps officiate a few same-sex marriages.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Wednesday, June 26 that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a challenge to a California ban, and sent it back to the U.S. Court of Appeals with instructions to dismiss the appeal. Legally, for the time being at least, it means the state cannot enforce Prop 8, so same-sex marriages will be permitted again in California. In another case decided on Wednesday, the court struck down a federal law that denied benefits to legally married same-sex couples, scoring a significant victory for gay rights. That decision means same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law -- with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.
"Today’s rulings from the US Supreme Court are great steps forward in the movement for equality and justice," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy. "The decision means a great deal to so many of our UCC members and their relationships. The General Synod has supported marriage equality in each of these cases by joining friend of the court briefs."
With California able to once again recognize same-sex marriages, it means 30 percent of the American population lives in a state that permits the freedom to marry.
At General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, June 28 through July 2, the denomination plans to celebrate the decisions and reaffirm the UCC's 2005 stand on marriage equality – the denomination’s recognition of same-sex marriage as affirmation that all people should have the right to marry the person they love.
"How awesome that the UCC is gathering for General Synod later this week in California which is at the center of today’s great decision," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for the UCC’s Local Church Ministries and the church’s first openly-gay national officer. "It will be a great occasion to celebrate our solidarity with fair-minded Californians who worked so hard to ensure that equal marriage will now be restored to our nation’s largest state."
The two cases on marriage equality were heard before the Supreme Court on March 26 and 27: Hollingsworth vs. Perry was a case on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, enacted in 2008 that ended marriage equality in that state; and Windsor vs. United States challenged the Defense of Marriage Act on the claim that it denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. In the case on Prop 8, two same-sex couples filed their challenges in federal court, and California government leaders who could have defended the law declined to do that, proponents of Prop 8 stepped in and argued the case.
In the past four decades, the UCC's General Synod, the main deliberative body of the denomination, has adopted resolutions affirming LGBT persons, calling for an end to discrimination and equal protection under the law, including the freedom to marry.
"Ultimately, this is not about what the UCC believes or what another church believes or what any other faith tradition believes," Schuenemeyer said. "This is about the core values of who we are as a nation, in which our founding documents say, ‘All are created equal,’ and call for equal protection under the law for everyone. Every citizen places their hand over their heart and makes a solemn pledge of liberty and justice for all. Not just for some, but for all."
In 2005, when General Synod in Atlanta passed a resolution affirming equal marriages for all people, regardless of gender, the UCC became the first mainline denomination to allow same-sex marriages in the United States. The General Synod also stated that the government should not interfere with couples who choose to marry, and instead should share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriages.
In addition to California, there are currently 12 states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit, or will soon permit, same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
"There is still a great deal of work to do to win marriage equality across this country and we are ready to do that work," Schuenemeyer said. "Today, we rejoice and celebrate that California again has the freedom to marry and that DOMA is dead."