That they may all be one. Voters in four states affirmed that prayer on Election Day with historic wins for marriage equality in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington.
The wins are being celebrated across the United Church of Christ, and in the states where voters made their voices heard.
The decisions in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and in Washington, where results won't be official for three days, marked the first time in history that a popular vote of the people supported marriage for same-sex couples, giving the issue a much-needed win, and perhaps signaling a change in opinion on the issue. Marriage equality had never won at the poll in 32 tries since the late 1990s, which makes the four wins in 2012 even more monumental.
"I am thrilled by these victories, which are truly historic because they represent the first time marriage equality has won at the polls, either to pass pro-marriage equality legislation or turn back a discriminatory measure," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy. "They demonstrate how far we have come in this struggle for equality and justice. They show what is possible when people join in solidarity to work for something that makes a real difference in the lives of people. Faith leadership was integrated in all of these efforts in unprecedented ways and I'm proud of the role so many of our UCC members and churches played in each of these victories."
Maryland, Maine and Washington all passed marriage equality laws, joining the District of Columbia and six other states (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire) in allowing same-sex marriages. Voters in Minnesota chose not to approve a constitutional ban limiting marriage between a man and woman.
This was the biggest year for marriage equality at the ballot box since 2006, when seven states passed anti-marriage equality amendments. Two years before that, 11 of 11 measures limiting gay marriage passed. But opinions have shifted, says Dr. Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. "Given younger Americans' strong support for same-sex marriage, it seems unlikely that this issue will reappear as a major national wedge in the future," he added.
The victories in Maryland and Washington allow laws in those states to take effect in January 2013 in Maryland, and Dec. 6 in Washington.
Question 6 (Maryland)
The marriage equality law in Maryland went into effect March 1 but was challenged by opponents who gained enough petition signatures. When it was put to a vote, 52 percent of the state (1,252,658 to 1,158,719) favored the issue at the polls Tuesday night.
"Today is better than yesterday for many of our families and their children," said the Rev. Barbara Kershner-Daniel, pastor at Evangelical Reformed UCC in Frederick, Md. "I celebrate this historic moment for justice and equality for all loving families in Maryland and with our friends in Maine, Washington, and Minnesota.
"Every phone call that was made, every conversation, every letter to elected officials and newspapers, every program and rally and Facebook posting and email moved us one step close to this wonderful day of celebration," Kershner-Daniel said.
Issue 1 (Maine)
The vote in Maine is significant because just three years earlier, the state voted to limit marriage equality. The issue passed through the Maine legislature in 2009, but was quickly repealed by a referendum before it went into effect.
Tuesday's results showed 53 percent of voters (341,336 to 301,615) in favor of Issue 1 to allow same-sex marriages.
Amendment 1 (Minnesota)
Of the four states voting on marriage equality on Election Day, Minnesota was the only one that sought to ban gay couples from marrying with a constitutional amendment. The measure needed a majority of ‘Yes' votes to pass, but had 47.7 percent support. The win means that the state cannot limit marriage between a man and a woman; It does not legalize same-sex marriages, and the debate is far from over in that state.
For now, Rev. Obadiah (Oby) Ballinger is celebrating the outcome. Ballinger, a pastor at Community UCC in St. Paul Park, worked with Minnesotans United for All Families to drum support to defeat the amendment, and praised UCC members in Minnesota.
"Last night we saw the persistent, faithful efforts of countless Minnesotans create a groundswell movement for the freedom to marry. I'm so proud that thousands of our UCC members talked to their neighbors, friends and family members, made phone calls, and raised money as part of this historic victory," he said. "This is what the realm of God looks like when it breaks through to transform our world in the name of love."
Referendum 74 (Washington)
The early returns from Washington have Referendum 74 passing in Washington by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin with 60 percent of the votes counted. Washington allows voters to mail in their ballots before the election, so the results won't be final for a few days.
Washington United, the pro-marriage equality organization in the state, says it is cautiously optimistic about the results.
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming and working for marriage equality. At the 2005 biennial General Synod, the denomination passed a resolution affirming equal marriage rights for all couples, regardless of gender.