Leaders in the United Church of Christ from all corners of the country are applauding the Democratic Party's historic move this week, becoming the first major U.S. political party to support gay marriage.
The Democratic Party Platform was approved Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The section pertaining to marriage equality is summarized in two succinct and strongly-worded paragraphs supporting same-sex marriage, rejecting the Defense of Marriage Act and respecting religious liberties to administer marriage as clergy see fit.
"These values belong in the platform of every person running for public office. They respect religious freedom and champion equality under the law," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the UCC's executive for health and wholeness advocacy. "They honor the worth and dignity of every person and are among the core values of our faith."
There are more than 500 LGBT delegates attending the three-day DNC Sept. 4-6 in a state that three months ago passed a referendum prohibiting same-sex marriage. One day after that vote, President Barack Obama announced his support for the legalization of gay marriage, setting the stage for the party to adopt the issue into its 2012 platform.
UCC pastors and conference ministers hope the support translates to victory at the election polls in four states that have marriage equality issues on the ballot. Voters in two of those states – Maryland and Washington – will decide whether to uphold marriage for same-sex couples.
The move by the Democrats gives the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, senior pastor at Evangelical Reformed UCC in Frederick, Md., more optimism for the issue in her state's upcoming election. "I think it highlights it and will garner more conversation, and I hope it mobilizes people in Maryland to vote for the referendum," she said.
Maryland approved a marriage equality law that took effect March 1, but has been challenged via referendum. The issue is on the ballot this November, and voters will decide whether or not to uphold the law by voting in favor of marriage equality.
Kershner Daniel likened the party's support for marriage equality to support for children in families with same-sex parents.
"From an early age in the church, we teach our children about the value of love and value of making promises to each other, whether it's baptism or confirmation," Kershner Daniel said. "But there are also the promises we make out of love."
Over on the west coast, Pacific Northwest Conference Minister the Rev. Mike Denton said the adoption of the issue by a major political party "says a lot about the hard work by folks to get [marriage equality] recognized."
Like Maryland, Washington approved same-sex marriage before it was challenged by referendum (Referendum 74 on the ballot). The marriage-equality issue in Washington has supporters from both sides of the political spectrum, and Denton said it's unclear if the Democratic stance on same-sex marriage will enhance support for Referendum 74. "It's really hard to tell if it will make that much of a difference, but it makes a difference around turnout," he said. "[It might] encourage supporters to turn out for the election."
Minnesota Conference Minister the Rev. Karen Smith Sellers rejoiced in the announcement that Democrats would support marriage equality, and highlighted the party's decision to let churches best decide on who they should marry.
"I think it is important that the platform makes clear its support of the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference," she said.
Here are the 111 words in the Democratic Party's 2012 platform on marriage equality:
We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.
We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.