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LOS ANGELES: Bishops, interfaith leaders stand up for equality, defeating Proposition 8

[Episcopal News Service] Defeating Proposition 8, the California voter-approved ban on gay marriage, is more than a legal issue; it's also a matter of faith, Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles told an Oct. 20 gathering of interfaith leaders at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul. 

Bruno, along with Los Angeles Bishops Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary D. Glasspool, urged congregations to support a California Faith for Equality (CFE) amicus brief to be filed Oct. 25, affirming an earlier appellate court ruling that invalidated Proposition 8.

"It's important that we sign this brief and that people understand that the church supports all humanity and their right to marry," Bruno said. "This is a fundamental right of all human beings, it's a religious right, a right of sacredness.

"I see this as a landmark; it will bring to an end discrimination that has taken place for so long," he added.

CFE hopes to get one thousand signatures in support of its brief, giving people of faith an opportunity to speak on behalf of equal justice, said Eric Alan Isaacson, an attorney who wrote the brief, which he expects to file Oct. 25 in support of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the Aug. 4 ruling which struck down Proposition 8.

In that ruling, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco said that Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. His decision was appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel will hear oral arguments in the case in December.

Voters had approved the ban by a 52.3% margin six months after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was permitted under the state Constitution. An estimated 18,000 same-gender couples married in California during the months that it was legal; their marriages are still recognized.

The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, chair of the diocesan program group on LGBT ministry, told the gathering she supported the amicus brief because "I believe that "liberty and justice for all" really means all and that same-sex couples deserve equal protection from the state of California just as they receive equal blessings from God."

She and others at the gathering linked anti-gay religious rhetoric to a recent spate of bullying and suicides among gay youth.

"We need family values that value all families," Glasspool said. "Religious freedom is diminished when government imposes the doctrines of some faiths on all and humanity is diminished when anyone is deprived of their basic human right."

Bruce called marriage equality a justice issue. Her 29-year marriage isn't threatened by same gender marriage, she added. "Everyone is beloved in God's eyes and we as people of faith need to respect not only the dignity of every human being but to insure that every human being has a right to the same civil liberties and to make sure that no one is discriminated against in any way, shape or form."

The Rev. Dr. Neil Thomas, a senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles and CFE board president, said he officiated at more than 100 same-gender marriages.

Like their opposite-gender counterparts, when same-gender couples married, "they weren't marrying for rights, they were marrying because they loved one another and they wanted the sacredness of those relationships blessed within the church and within the state," he said.

He said it's time to reclaim a progressive religious voice, instead of those "who speak hate from the pulpit" who inflict untold damage upon gay and lesbian youth.

"We must stop the hate, stop the hatred from our pulpits, stop the hatred that seems to be rife in our community and stop the rhetoric that seems to proclaim a god of hatred, not the God we know, which is a god of love and a god of peace. Let's make sure that Prop 8 is finally off the table."

Eric Greene, Southern California director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance called the struggle to overturn Prop 8 "the latest struggle America has had to undergo to make good on its promise for freedom and equality for all."

He linked the government's failure to provide equal protection to all under the law to a "recent spate of blame and suicide" among gay youth.

"We need to do all we can to restore an ethic of dignity for all in our society," he added. "That's what this fight is about … basic dignity, the right to seek love, companionship, support and belonging that come with a committed relationship, with having family and come with having a union and having that union recognized by the rest of society."

The Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Council of Churches, Sacramento, said the group, which represents 6,000 congregation and 6.5 million people throughout the state, wants "all of California's couples to have the same rights."

"Proposition 8 is an outright attack on the religious freedom and the faith and values of a number of religious groups," he added.

The Rev. Arthur Lawrence Cribbs Jr., pastor of the San Marino Congregational United Church of Christ, said the church "is slow and divided on the issue of marriage equality" just as in previous centuries the church initially resisted opposing slavery and supporting the civil rights movement.

"It is my prayer and my hope that we will act within our faith to treat others as we want to be treated and that it will not take until the middle of the 21st century to act in ways that are just and right for all," he said. "Marriage equality now -- not later, now."

All of God's creatures "have the same rights, the same obligations," the Rev. Fernando Santillana, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Norwalk, told the gathering.

"We have to be the voice that can speak for God in a society that is dividing people. We have seen how people were divided in Nazi Germany. We saw how people were divided in Communist Russia. We have a job in front of us to defend the divine rights of all people," he said.

Michael Adee, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a national LGBT advocacy organization, said that "as a gay kid growing up I could never have imagined a morning like this when faith leaders would stand and speak about God in a way that would include me.

"I would never have imagined faith leaders speaking for fairness and justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

"I'm also here because I believe everyone has a right to be part of a family and is created for love and companionship," he said.

CFE executive director Samuel Chu also called upon clergy to recognize that religious rhetoric "has a direct impact and consequence in the world. We ask not only among our colleagues in ministries across the state and land that they stop causing harm to our youth to our families and to members sitting in pews.

He vowed to continue to work toward "not only marriage equality but equality and freedom of all people (and) that you will join us as we move forward and stand up not only for our rights but for rights and love for all."

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

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