Three leaders from the United Church of Christ bring messages of equality and inclusion to Washington D.C. this week, as they stand with interfaith leaders from 15 denominations in support of LGBT love and equality. As the U.S. Supreme Court hears two marriage equality cases, UCC ministers will participate in several faith-specific events of support and solidarity beginning Tuesday, March 26.
"I am honored and excited to be participating in Tuesday's prayer service and public witness in Washington, D.C., knowing that we will be joined by tens of thousands across the country in prayer for marriage equality," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries. "This court decision is obviously deeply personal for me, but it is also a great professional privilege to be able to represent and demonstrate the UCC's pro-marriage equality commitment as part of a large ecumenical, interfaith gathering."
Guess, participating in 'A Prayer for Love and Justice' Tuesday morning followed by a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, will be joined on the ground in D.C. by the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC executive for LGBT concerns, and Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder and pastor of the City of Refuge in San Francisco.
The interfaith effort begins at 7:15 a.m. with the sunrise service, 'A Prayer for Love and Justice' which will bring together more than two dozen religious leaders in prayers and song at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, a few blocks from the court (212 East Capitol St). Flunder will sing and Guess will preach at the service.
"My partner, Jim, and I have been together for 12 years now, and in 2003, we married in a church service with about 150 family members and friends there to support us," Guess said. "In 2008, we were among the first out-of-state couples to get a marriage license in Massachusetts when it first became legal there for out-of-staters to do so. And it's an odd feeling, as we travel across the country, noting in which jurisdictions we are legally married and which ones we are not, especially in Ohio, where we live. And there are consequences to that, like how we are regarded as spouses by a car rental company, for example, or worse, what would happen if we were in an emergency. I think a lot about that."
After the morning prayer service, there will be a procession to the United for Marriage Rally in front of the Supreme Court at 8:30 a.m. Flunder and Schuenemeyer will speak at the rally, and later Tuesday evening, Schuenemeyer is slated to participate in a Seder, 'Parting the Waters: A Seder for Love, Liberation and Justice,' at 5:30 p.m. at the Human Rights Campaign (1640 Rhode Island Ave).
"We stand with thousands of same-sex couples across the life the church, affirming their freedom to marry the person they love," Schuenemeyer said. "The love and commitment of these couples should have the same recognition, dignity and respect that is granted to all other couples in the U.S. That's why we support the freedom to marry for those who choose it."
Schuenemeyer chairs the Interfaith Committee for the United for Marriage coalition, which has registered 134 faith-related events in support of marriage equality across the country.
"What I’m feeling most today is a very parallel feeling to what it was to be an African American when decisions were made for civil rights and inalienable rights [in the 1960s]," Flunder said. "As a women who is African American and a same-gender loving woman, it is momentous that the Supreme Court is considering that my and Shirley’s almost 30 years together is a valid relationship. That’s huge for me."
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on two marriage equality cases in back-to-back days: 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. After deliberations, the nine justices will likely announce their decision in late June.
"I feel hopeful, even confident, the Supreme Court will make the right and fair decision for equality in marriage, but I also know the work of changing hearts and minds continues," Guess said. "The undeniable shift in support for marriage equality, in large measure, has happened in this country because of the leadership of the United Church of Christ. I really believe that. The UCC has been at the forefront, in every state and in thousands of communities, preparing people to accept and love LGBT people and affirm our relationships. I am one who is benefitting from the UCC's bold and faithful advocacy, and I am very grateful."
The UCC's General Synod has joined on with several "amicus curiae" briefs to the court. The UCC's history of LGBT advocacy traces back decades, as it was the first denomination to ordain an openly gay minister, and the first to affirm marriage equality for all couples in 2005.
As the case for marriage equality is being debated across the country, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a majority of Americans now believe it should be legal for LGBT couples to marry. Fifty-eight percent of those polled support the issue, with 36 percent saying same sex marriage should be illegal. Right now marriage equality bills are moving through at least two state legislatures in Illinois and Rhode Island, with nine states, along with Washington, D.C., that recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington.