Written by Barb Powell
Leaders of the United Church of Christ today (Feb. 7) applauded the ruling handed down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals calling California’s “Prop 8” unconstitutional.
"We are thankful for the important step that has been taken toward marriage equality with the overturning of Proposition 8," said the Rev. James Moos, executive minister of the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries. "While we still have work to do, we can proceed with renewed vigor in our quest for justice."
In the introduction to the ruling, the court recognized that the legislation does not take away religious freedoms. It further implied that all Prop 8 did was discriminate against same-gender couples. "Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California," the court said.
Both points were key elements of an amicus brief filed by the United Church of Christ against Prop 8. A 2008 ballot measure in California that limited marriage to one man and one woman, Prop 8 was struck down in a 2-1 decision by a panel of the Court.
"I applaud the court’s ruling. It honors all families in our communities and is an important step for equality and justice for everyone," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC's executive for LGBT concerns. "This ruling is not about what religious institutions have to do, it is about the role of the state to treat all of its citizens fairly and equally, and the importance of respecting religious liberty. Same-sex couples should have the right to marry because it is the only way to honor religious liberty. Many of our United Church of Christ pastors and congregations perform religious marriage rites for same-sex couples, and do so out of their theological convictions. This in no way inhibits others from refraining to do so out of their own convictions. It is not the role of government to interfere and deny anyone this basic right based on gender."
Although proponents of Prop 8 vowed to appeal, the ruling clears the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on same-gender marriage, possibly as early as next year.
"As progressive people of faith, we celebrate this ruling that strikes down a law that would have continued to discriminate against members of our community who deserve the right to get married," said the Rev. Patricia de Jong, senior minister of First Congregational UCC in Berkeley, Calif. "Love is a powerful moral force in our world and is to be celebrated not denied."
De Jong's comments were echoed in United Church of Christ congregations across California.
"As a pastor of an Open and Affirming congregation in the United Church of Christ, I celebrate the news that the 9th Circuit has upheld the ruling which supports equal rights for all people," said the Rev. Petra Mallei-Sternberg, pastor of First Congregational UCC in San Bernardino, Calif. "I look forward to the joyous day when all couples who wish to be married will be afforded the same legal benefits, and in the meantime, our pastors and congregation will continue to offer a sacred blessing in weddings for all couples who desire to celebrate their love and covenant commitment."
"I have been doing same gender weddings for over 20 years and I am delighted that the court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. This is a case about equal rights under the law –– nothing else. Proposition 8 is blatantly discriminatory and needs to be overthrown –– I hope the Supreme Court will affirm the Circuit Court's opinion," said the Rev. Jerald M. Stinson, senior minister of First Congregational UCC of Long Beach, Calif. "Marriage is about committed loving relationships and those relationships exist in gay couples as well as straight couples."
In 2005, the UCC's General Synod approved a resolution that affirmed its support for same-gender marriage equality. The UCC's Southern California-Nevada Conference and Northern California-Nevada Conference were among the earliest advocates for the General Synod action. Both Conferences had actively opposed Prop. 8.
In November 2008, the UCC purchased full-page ads in three of California's largest gay community publications after voters there approved Prop 8. The ads appeared in the “Bay Area Reporter” in San Francisco, “Frontiers” in Los Angeles and “Gay & Lesbian News” in San Diego, and expressed support for same-gender marriage.
In 2010, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the ban on same-gender marriage amounted to unconstitutional discrimination and should be immediately struck down.
"Justice is served when we end discrimination and provide equal protection under the law for everyone," the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, said at the time. "I join those in our churches and the communities we serve who also praise this decision for what it means to them, their families and our society."