Emerging Congregation Speaks Out on Marriage Equality
The Mt. Vernon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, an emerging, lay-led congregation in southern Illinois, is speaking up in favor of love and justice in its small, rural community. After the Jefferson County Board overwhelmingly passed a resolution expressing support for a definition of marriage as a sacred institution between one man and one woman, members of the fellowship’s Board of Trustees and Taskforce for LGBT Concerns drafted a letter to the County Board asking it to rescind the “divisive” resolution. The effort garnered the small congregation coverage in a local newspaper and now MVUUF members will participate in an upcoming grassroots protest at the next County Board meeting.
Paul Kent Oakley, a member of the Taskforce for LGBT Concerns says of the fellowship’s action, “While we, as a Welcoming Congregation, have had Pride Picnics in the city park and have had Pride services each year, as well as other services centered on LGBT concerns and equality, this is the first local situation which has explicitly called us to act quite this publicly on our principles and Welcoming commitments. It is a growth opportunity for our members personally as well as an opportunity to make our commitments and values more widely known in our small community.”
Here the text of the fellowship’s beautifully articulated letter:
To the Jefferson County Board:
On June 25, 2012, by a vote of 12 yes to 1 no and 1 abstention, you the Board of Jefferson County Illinois passed a resolution supporting marriage as “a sacred union between one man and one woman.” We ask you to reconsider your position as elected officials and rescind that resolution.
Mt. Vernon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is certified by our denomination as a Welcoming Congregation. This designation signifies that we have gone through an extensive process to educate ourselves on sexuality and gender issues and that we have ensured that our bylaws and policies, as well as the worship and customs of our congregation, are fully inclusive and respectful of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and their relationships. For the past two years in late June, our congregation has hosted a LGBT Pride picnic at Veterans Memorial Park. Our congregation includes gay couples, whose relationships we celebrate as equally worthy expressions of love as are traditional marriages between one man and one woman.
Our national denominational body, the Unitarian Universalist Association, has a long record of standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality in every aspect of law and society. We have proudly supported the ordination of qualified LGBT candidates since the 1970s, joined in the struggle for full legal and social equality of LGBT persons, and since 1996 we have advocated for legal marriage between members of the same sex, and our ministers are both free and happy to perform such ceremonies.
Unitarian Universalists are not alone among religious people in promoting these values. The United Church of Christ has taken similar stands on close to the same timetable. Reform and Conservative Judaism both stand for full legal and religious equality of LGBT persons, including marriage equality. Currently several American Christian denominations are in various stages of acceptance of LGBT persons as not being in violation of their understanding of God’s intentions for humanity. Among these are the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church of the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), all of which ordain openly LBGT persons as well as advocating for greater legal and social equality.
The resolution you passed on June 25 stated, “Marriage is a spiritual union in which man and woman are joined by God to live together as one.” We do not doubt that those who voted for this resolution believe that. But we, as people of faith who do not believe as you do, hold that it is not your place as elected officials to render religious definitions of the legal institution of marriage. We also observe that your definition of marriage also would negate the validity of a great many legal marriages between a man and a woman in which there is, in fact, no spiritual union and no God-joined living as one.
We accept and honor the fact that each County Board member, as an individual, has the right to his or her own religious, social, and political beliefs. We do not ask you necessarily to agree with our positions. But we do ask that you honor the separate spheres of religion and elective politics. We ask that you honor the worth and dignity of your constituents whose personal and religious values are not the same as your own. We ask that you honor the worth and dignity of your LGBT constituents, of your constituents who are in committed same-sex relationships, and of your constituents whose children are living in such relationships. We ask that you our elected officials refrain from justifying a resolution with religious statements that are directly in contradiction of our religious values.
We urge you to rescind this divisive resolution on marriage passed on June 25, 2012.
Mt. Vernon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship