Written by Anthony Moujaes
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ plans to celebrate marriage equality like never before-because now it can.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday, June 26, that the Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the decision, gay marriage becomes legal in all 50 states. The ruling kicks off a major celebration at General Synod, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the UCC becoming the first mainline religious group to affirm equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, on July 4, 2005.
"How tremendously exciting that we can celebrate this huge historic moment together, as a gathered denomination here at General Synod, at the same time we are also commemorating the 10-year anniversary of our early support for marriage equality and our 30-year Open and Affirming UCC movement," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the first openly-gay UCC national officer, whose marriage is now legal in the state of Ohio. "We've been at this a long time, and when the final story is written on how marriage equality came to this country, it will be impossible for anyone to ignore the significant leadership that the United Church of Christ, our churches and leaders, contributed toward making this victory for LGBTQ families possible."
In the 5-4 ruling, the court found that "[s]ame-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right," the majority opinion reads. "Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians."
"Today we celebrate a victory for justice and equality; it is a significant moment in this journey," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy, whose marriage is also now legal in the state of Ohio. "In the United Church of Christ, we believe couples should be able to enjoy all the rites and blessings their faith traditions have to offer. And we'll be ready to perform those rites and blessings, including the solemnizing of legal marriages just as soon as couples can get their licenses not only here in Ohio, but in our open and affirming churches across the country."
UCC marriage equality supporters are attending a rally celebrating the decision at Cleveland City Hall today. UCC ministers also plan to officiate same-sex marriages on Mall C in Cleveland as soon as Cuyahoga County starts issuing marriage licenses.
The ruling by the court is a welcome birthday present for the Rev. Kate Huey, one of the five people working in the UCC Church House whose marriage is now recognized in Ohio.
"Today is my birthday. My family has been a family for more than 20 years. Even though this was just released, I'm so grateful and I don't think people realize what it feels like," said Huey, who is dean of Amistad Chapel UCC at the denomination's national offices.
Huey and her spouse, Jackie Cassara, had a commitment ceremony in a church in 1996, and were married in October in New York City.
"I feel so grateful to people like Laurie Hafner, who have been with us for 30 years, and have been loyal and came all the way to New York City to marry us, and obviously to people like Connie Schultz and [Sen.] Sherrod [Brown] — people who had nothing to gain and a lot to lose," Huey said. "I'm so grateful to be part of the UCC."