The work for LGBT rights by leaders of the United Church of Christ continues in Providence, Rhode Island this weekend, where UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black will join leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association to speak about the importance of marriage equality in that state – the only state in New England that does not recognize same-sex marriages.
"I've been married for a long time and I experience my relationship with my spouse to be a gift and joy," Black said. "I am deeply grateful to God for the gift, which has been the source of much joy and deep meaning. I know many same-gendered couples who love each other deeply and I believe their love is a gift that brings them joy as well. Yet, they are denied the recognition of their relationship in the law of the land and public policy. In a society that embraces equal justice under the law, this inequality should not be. It is wrong and it is unacceptable."
Black and the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalists, will participate in an afternoon rally on April 7 at First Unitarian Church of Providence, to share a religious perspective in support of equal rights for marriage equality. The Rhode Island State Senate is now considering an amendment that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples after the House passed the bill by a 51-19 vote in late January.
"On the coffee table in my office, there is a wonderful book titled 'Love Makes a Family.' It's full of great photographs and family stories about gay and lesbian people and their families, children, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles – all family," Black said. "Love just jumps out from the pages. Commitment is obvious in every photo. I believe marriage is about those two elements, love and commitment. In that regard, these marriages are like any other and should be treated as such in our laws and in our public policies."
Black's participation in Rhode Island comes a week after UCC leaders rallied in Washington, D.C., in support of hearings at the Supreme Court of the United States. After Black and Morales speak at the rally, they will appear at a news conference with other faith leaders in support of the issue.
Both the UCC and the UUA have worked alongside people of faith in Rhode Island to assure marriage equality for all persons. The Rev. Betsy Garland, a UCC minister and president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, ensured the UCC had a presence at the state house in late March as she testified in a committee in support of the legislation.
"I spent 12 hours at the state house last Thursday evening and Friday morning," she said. "[I] testified at midnight and finally left at 2:30 a.m. when more of my colleagues had done so."
The UCC's General Synod affirmed full marriage equality for all couples in 2005, and there are now more than 1,000 open and affirming churches registered with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns. The UUA began celebrating the unions of same-sex couples in 1979 and formally affirmed this practice in 1984.
In addition to Rhode Island, Illinois is also considering marriage equality legislation. There are nine states, along with Washington, D.C., that permit same-sex marriages: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington.