Central Atlantic Conference to consider endorsing SCNC’s ‘equal marriage’ resolution

The Chesapeake Open and Affirming Task Team (COATT), a group created five years ago in the Central Atlantic Conference’s Chesapeake Association and last year’s author of a resolution that calls on churches to “engage in conversation regarding equal access to civil marriage for all persons” now says the Southern California-Nevada Conference’s resolution affirming marriage equality is more aligned with the church’s “call to justice.”

“Our primary motivation is that we like what the authors of the Southern California-Nevada Conference’s resolution are saying,” said the Rev. Bruce G. Swanson, pastor of First and St. Stephen’s UCC in Baltimore and a member of COATT. “By asking the Conference to endorse it, we are attempting to make a really positive and proactive statement.”

Delegates will vote on whether to endorse Southern California – Nevada’s resolution at next week’s annual meeting of the Central Atlantic Conference at the University of Delaware. The proposed endorsement needs to be approved by a majority of voting delegates.

“I think it is going to be really close,” Swanson said. “But I am hopeful.”

The UCC’s General Synod will debate three different marriage-related proposals in Atlanta next month at its biennial gathering. The Southern California-Nevada resolution is by far that most far-reaching, as it asks the General Synod to affirm full civil and religious equality for same-gender couples, whereas the Central Atlantic Conference resolution merely calls for a time of church-wide prayer, conversation and study on the issue. A third resolution, offered by eight geographically-diverse congregations, asks the Synod to affirm “traditional” marriage as “between one man and one woman.”

The Rev. John Deckenback, Central Atlantic Conference Minister, said that when his Conference’s resolution was first drafted more than a year ago, it was considered to be something that would put the church at the forefront of the issue of same-gender marriage.

But national events in the year since the resolution was drafted, Deckenback said, have led some in his Conference to believe that a more expansive statement is necessary.

“I think the authors of the resolution felt that events in the country at-large – witness the Massachusetts situation or the San Francisco situation – have moved beyond where we were a year ago,” Deckenback said.

Deckenback also said that since the resolution was passed by his Conference last June, the Conference’s 178 churches have had the opportunity to study the issue and formulate their own opinions.

“The authors, I think, felt that it is now time to take the next step,” Deckenback said.

Just last month in Maryland – one of six regions represented by the Central Atlantic Conference which also includes Delaware, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia – Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed two bills passed by the state’s legislature that would have allowed couples of either sex to make medical decisions for their partners and to add a partner to a deed of property without paying the state transfer tax.

In his veto message to state legislators, Ehrlich said “the noble goals of ensuring that couples have access to important health-related decisions” were outweighed by the possibility that the bills would “codify a new relationship of life partner and could lead to the erosion of the sanctity of traditional marriage as already codified in Maryland law.”

The current political fight in Maryland over gay marriage makes it even more imperative, Swanson said, that the Central Atlantic Conference take a clear stand for justice by endorsing the Southern California-Nevada resolution.

“It would have a significant impact,” Swanson said. “It would say that there is another religious voice out there. Any time we can get that said it becomes powerful. Culturally, showing that there are a variety of religious voices out there is very important.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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