Written by Anthony Moujaes
When the U.S. Supreme Court hears a pair of cases on state and federal legislation that limit the freedom to marry, the highest court in the country will hear the voice of the United Church of Christ's General Synod, which signed on to amicus curiae briefs alongside other religious and secular advocates of LGBT rights.
The briefs were filed Thursday with the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the cases March 26 and 27: Hollingsworth vs. Perry, 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, which challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, who is the UCC's executive for health and wholeness advocacy, said the denomination's faith-based perspective in favor of marriage equality was one reason for joining the amicus ("friend of the court") briefs — filed by those who have an interest in a case, but are not legal party.
"There were strong religious voices in opposition to marriage equality that led to Congress creating DOMA and Prop 8 on the ballot," he said. "[The UCC] has a significant and important witness on the issue, and we don't think the religious perspective should be to draft legislation that discriminates against a class of people.
"The General Synod was clear in that it called for the church, and church settings, to oppose that kind of legislation."
The primary basis from the briefs in supporting marriage equality is that all citizens should be afforded equality under the law, and that DOMA and Proposition 8 deny that equal protection. UCC polity is cited throughout the legal briefs.
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.
In 2005, the General Synod in Atlanta passed a resolution affirming equal marriages for all people, regardless of gender, making the UCC 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.
"We recognize and affirm that all of us are made in the image of God and, as children of God, each of us is endowed with dignity and worth that human judgment cannot set aside," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries office in Washington, D.C. "As a Christian church, we believe love and compassion, justice and peace are at the very core of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is a message that always bends toward inclusion."
At a news conference, Sorensen joined with the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a group of 80 LGBT, legal and civil rights groups, in calling on the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA and Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. Participants at the event were amicus signers that represented a broad base of support for marriage equality.
"In a nation that pledges liberty and justice for all, married same-sex couples deserve to be recognized equally under the law at every level, including by the federal government," Sorensen said. "As a matter of justice, married same-sex couples should have equal access to the same institutional support, rights and benefits that heterosexual married couples enjoy. DOMA denies same-sex couples and their children the federal rights and benefits of marriage, and in so doing, undermines the civil liberties of these couples and their families."
Numerous advocacy groups, major corporations and even the Obama Administration have filed amicus briefs weighing in on the issue. Once the Supreme Court hears arguments for both cases, the nine justices will likely announce their decision in late June.
Outside the Court, marriage equality bills are moving through at least two state legislatures in Illinois and Rhode Island. There are nine states, along with Washington, D.C., that recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington.
Additionally, JWM has signed on an amicus brief with the Anti-Defamation League for Windsor vs. United States, and the UCC's regional California conference joined another brief for Hollingsworth vs. Perry.