Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Marriage, Civil Unions Different, Advocates Say"

First Christian forum addresses the topic
By Shannon Brennan
Lynchburg News and Advance
Sunday, October 12, 2003

Jimmy Creech and his wife got married in a small claims courtroom in Wake County, N.C. Several days later, they had a United Methodist celebration in their backyard.

"I’ve always believed that church and state should be separate," Creech told a group of about 150 Soulforce supporters at First Christian Church Saturday morning.

The former United Methodist minister introduced the topic of marriage at a forum on civil unions, aimed at teaching people how to talk about what marriage is and isn’t. Creech, who was kicked out of his church for performing same-sex celebrations, doesn’t think marriage has anything to do with gender – or with religion.

"You don’t have to be religious to marry," he said. "Marriage is a spiritual bond."

As a pastor for 29 years, Creech said he always separated the civil contract bestowed by the government from the religious ritual. The church, he said, has assumed an inappropriate role of making judgments about who should be together.

"It’s a human right," he said. "Who you love and who you bond with is your choice."

Soulforce, a group dedicated to reducing spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, is also working to stop a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Members of Soulforce from around the country are in Lynchburg this weekend to talk about marriage, participate in a Gay Pride event, and this morning, to hold a vigil outside Thomas Road Baptist Church. The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said he would make passing the constitutional amendment on marriage his No. 1 priority.

Laura Montgomery Rutt, who introduced the four-member panel on civil marriage equality, said the concern about the proposed constitutional amendment is real.

"The Constitution has never before been used to codify discrimination," she said.

Panelist John Aravosis went further.

"This is going to have to end up being our black civil rights movement," he said.

Aravosis, who is best known for his successful campaign to stop Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s television show, has also appeared on The O’Reilly Factor and Hardball with Chris Matthews.

"This isn’t just an affront … there are some real legal implications here," Aravosis said.

Were a marriage amendment to pass, he said, people who have legal documents establishing a domestic partner – gay or straight – could lose their rights, including the right to visit their partner in a hospital and employee benefits.

Aravosis said the whole issue started with the Supreme Court decision this summer to overturn Texas sodomy laws. Instead of focusing on the fairness of that decision, the gay community allowed the religious right turned it into a rallying point for a marriage amendment.

Things will only get worse, he predicted, should the Massachusetts Supreme Court rule that people of the same gender can marry. That ruling is expected at any time.

"If Massachusetts says we can get married, it’s going to be a burning issue," he said.

Chris Purdom, a heterosexual Presbyterian elder and co-coordinator of the Interfaith Working Group in Philadelphia, agreed that such an amendment would be devastating.

"Do you really want a government inspector coming to your house to see if your marriage is OK?" he asked.

Peter Montgomery, vice president for communications at People For the American Way, said the religious right will try to use marriage as a wedge during the upcoming presidential election to turn out voters to elect politicians sympathetic to their cause.

President George W. Bush is talking out of both sides of his mouth by proclaiming next week "Marriage Protection Week," and also by saying that all people should be respected and treated fairly, he said.

Montgomery said, however, that he thinks most Americans are supportive of gay rights. The latest poll only showed 20 percent of Americans supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage.

Aravosis warned that could change quickly, saying, "Everyone loves us when there’s no news."

In a question-and-answer session, Soulforce founder the Rev. Mel White said he has become discouraged after trying for four years to combat anti-gay rhetoric and discrimination.

"There are 200 people here; why not 2,000?" he said.

Montgomery said it’s not as easy to mobilize the gay community as it was for Martin Luther King Jr. to mobilize the black community.

"The visibility of the damage isn’t as severe," he said, noting that stories about children in gay families and discrimination against gays are not told openly.

Purdom said too many people will not come out of the closet for fear of violence and discrimination.

Chalee Snorton, who works with GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, encouraged more people to talk to the media to get their stories out and explain civil marriage equality.

Another guest at the forum, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, said the issue of marriage is being rushed and many people are not ready for it. As a gay Muslim cleric, however, he tries to help by clarifying the Koran.

"The message in the Koran is that every human being has a right to a mate who is their comfort and cloak," he said.

碁 Contact Shannon Brennan at sbrennan@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5561.

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