A pivotal moment for marriage equality
The legality of marriage equality nationwide is the major question today, April 28, as the Supreme Court hears arguments that could shape the national scope for equal rights and the freedom to marry. Leaders and advocates of the United Church of Christ, who have worked tirelessly in the last decade to realize that freedom for equal rights, know that today could be a turning point in history. The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a national officer of the church, can sense it.
“This is a significant milestone moment in the long, hard-fought campaign to win marriage equality for same-gender couples,” Guess said. “We’re not there yet, but we are getting very, very close.”
Amid a throng of marriage equality supporters and opponents lined up on both sides of the Court, the nine justices are hearing cases from four states in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
“We have waited long enough for all couples to have the same rights,” said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy, who explained the UCC’s interest in the cases. “The time is now. We are on the doorstep to history—but this case is more than history—it is justice and equality for all people.”
“It was almost one decade ago that the General Synod adopted the resolution to support and affirm marriage equality for all people,” Schuenemeyer said. “That resolution called on our leaders to oppose the laws that restrict the freedom to marry, and that’s what we’ve been doing, culminating with the hearing of the cases today.”
The cases reached the Supreme Court after the Sixth Circuit ruled in November that bans in those four states against same-gender marriages were constitutional, creating a split among federal rulings. The circuit is the only appeals court to uphold state same-sex marriage bans since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth circuit courts all have ruled that same-sex marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution.
In 37 of the 50 states in the U.S., LGBT couples enjoy the freedom to marry. At this time last year, there were just 17 states, including the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage was recognized, but state and federal judges have since struck down marriage bans in 20 states. More than 216 million Americans—approximately 70 percent of the country—live in a state with marriage equality.
“I am so proud of our church for the significant leadership role it has played in every state, in every difficult legislative, judicial and electoral battle, every win and temporary setback, to till the soil so that marriage equality will soon be offered to all couples,” Guess said. “I am so excited that it is highly likely that we will be celebrating a national marriage equality victory when the UCC is gathered at General Synod in Cleveland in late June. What joy that will be.”
The Supreme Court ruling on the issue could come down in late June, likely just before the beginning of the UCC General Synod 2015 in Cleveland, when the church will celebrate the anniversaries of two major milestones in its LGBT equality movement: the 10th anniversary of the denomination becoming the first mainline church to affirm equal marriage rights, and the 30th anniversary of a resolution calling UCC congregations to become open and affirming of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Nationally, in the United Church of Christ, we’ve been fully invested in this work for a full decade now, helping to change hearts and minds, which has proved absolutely essential in making this day possible,” Guess said. “Public opinion is now on our side.”
The latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows 62 percent of white mainline Protestants supporting same-sex marriage, including 68 percent support from UCC members. Nationally, more than three out of five people believe all couples should have the right to marry the person they love.
“Our country is ready for marriage equality,” Guess said, “and I feel hopeful that the Supreme Court will finally recognize that a couple’s marriage is not something that they should have to leave behind at a state border.”
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