Tag Archives: Washington

WA becomes 7th state to legalize gay marriage

By Tracy Simmons

Gov. Chris Gregoire

In an emotive ceremony today, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation making Washington the seventh sate to legalize gay marriage.

“Today is a day that historians will mark as a milestone for equal rights,” she said to a hailing crowd.

The House passed the bill with a 55—43 vote last week, one week after the Senate approved it.

The gay marriage law is slated to take effect June 7. Opponents, however, are determined to overturn the measure by collecting enough signatures to send it to the ballot box. If they collect more than 120,000 names by June 6, which they likely will, then the law will be put on hold until the November election.

“If asked, the voters of Washington State will say yes to marriage equality…I believe Washingtonians know it’s time to give our gay and lesbian couples the right to a marriage license,” Gregoire said. “Isn’t it time to support strong families and make Washington stronger? Isn’t it time it time to send a message all across the world that we, in this state, stand proudly for equality?”

A recent poll by the University of Washington Center for Survey Research found that if the issue does go to voters, most would support it. Of those surveyed 55 percent said they would uphold the same-sex marriage law if it were challenged by referendum and 38 percent said they would vote against it.

Washington has had a domestic partnership law since 2007 and in 2009 an “everything but marriage” expansion that was upheld by voters.

Also on Monday the New Jersey State Senate passed gay marriage legislation. Gregoire said she will make an appeal to the state’s governor, Chris Christie, who has said he will veto the bill.

Should same-sex marriage be legalized in Washington?

Washington could be the seventh state (plus D.C.) to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill is moving steadily through the state legislature and is backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. 

Some religious groups are hoping to stall the bill, including the state’s four Catholic bishops who are urging parishioners to contact their legislatures and “defend the current definition of marriage.” Other faith groups, like the United Church of Christ, are applauding the bill, proving that homosexuality remains a divisive issue among religious adherents.

We asked some of our panelists what they thought.

Should Washington legalize same-sex marriage?

Diane Kipp

No. I believe marriage should continue to be defined as it traditionally has been, as between  one man and one woman. Not because tradition in and of itself is holy, but because this particular tradition has valid and essential societal, religious and biological justifications.  This definition denies some people something that they want very much and I take no pleasure in that, but I do not believe in changing valid, fundamental tenets that benefit society as a whole in order to relieve the pain of one segment of society and grant them their hearts’ desire, as universal and understandable as that desire may be.  Many people are denied the opportunities they want most in life; homosexuality is not the only reason some people are not able to marry. Infertility, disability, disease, injury and poverty are a few of the reasons many people don’t get what they want most.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s civil rights or opportunities to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and hope that individuals will take legal steps to insure their personal preferences are fulfilled — that they can own property with the partner of their choice, leave their money to whomever they please, have end-of-life decisions made by whomever they trust, etc.

I am not a debater, philosopher or expert in any related area (“clearly,” someone is thinking right now.)  It won’t be hard for someone to point out my weaknesses of expression and take exception to my rationale and argue against it.  But this is what I believe.

Diane Kipp

Lace Williams-Tinajero

The question is complex, calling forth a political, theological and deeply personal reflection. The question also touches on a divisive issue. Those who oppose same-sex unions tend to oppose same-sex relationships in general. Any response on the subject can lead to labeling and cutting off one another (e.g., left, right, center, liberal, conservative, moderate, fundamentalist, etc.) based on what a person believes and says. There’s a thought-provoking and comprehensive chapter called Concerning Homosexuality in “Who We Are: Our Dignity as Human,” by Paul K. Jewett with Marguerite Shuster. I point readers to it. With that said, it seems the crucial issue before us hinges on the word and institution and definition of “marriage.” I would like to change the question: Is there a way to legalize same-sex relationships without redefining traditional heterosexual marriage? It will take more time and creative thinking to establish something new for same-sex couples. Until then, I see only a deepening rift.

Lace Williams-Tinajero

Pearce Fujiura

Buddhists do not believe in the concept of “sin” the way it exists in Western culture and in the Judeo-Christian mind.  In Buddhism, actions are not inherently good or evil; rather it is that emotions and intentions are either positive or negative.  Negative intentions beget suffering and positive intentions lessen suffering. Love is a positive emotion and the actions of love are positive actions.  Buddhism has no specific restrictions that govern the activities of its practitioners. Buddhists have individual freedoms to make their own decisions regarding life choices.  A practitioner of Buddhism should focus on the intentions and emotions behind their choices.  Relationships, sex and even marriage can stem from both negative and positive intentions. That being said, I believe same-sex marriage should be legalized in Washington. I don’t believe individuals should be denied the opportunity to make decisions that could potentially bring them happiness.  Marriage is an expression of love two individuals make for themselves and each other.  Who a person chooses to love is irrelevant from a Buddhist perspective. I hope people of other faiths and cultures can see and respect the perspectives of homosexual couples and be willing to extend to them the same rights and freedoms that heterosexual couples enjoy.

Pearce Fujiura

Thomas J. Brown

Same-sex marriages should be legal in Washington, as well as in the rest of the country. The primary outcry against such legislation tends to be religious in nature, and since we’re discussing this topic on a website that deals with matters of religion, I’ll assume we’re trying to find out what various religions have to say about it. It frankly doesn’t matter, however, as the simple answer is that any religiously—based argument against same-sex marriage in this country violates our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state. If heterosexual couples can enter into civil unions (and every marriage, even those performed by the church, are civil unions), then homosexual couples should be granted the same basic civil rights. We’re talking about the laws that govern the state, not the rules that govern the church. The legislation wouldn’t, and indeed couldn’t, force churches to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, or even to acknowledge such marriages as valid in the eyes of God. That’s something the churches need to work out for themselves. If the religious really want to attempt to restrict the right of same-sex couples to marry, they’re going to need to come up with something better than, “because God said so.” Which actually he didn’t. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Thomas J. Brown

Pastor Eric Blauer

As a Untied States citizen exercising my freedom to vote according to my conscience, I would vote…no.

But the question is presented in a manner that asks if we think Washington ‘should’ legalize same-sex marriage.  As soon as we enter the realm of ‘should’ it becomes a very different discussion.

For most people determining what one ‘should or shouldn’t do’ becomes a discussion of the legislation’s legality based on the constitutionality of the law as well as a discussion of the ethical and religious aspects of the law. The challenge of differentiating between these two spheres in American culture is at the root of so much of the debate, dissent and confusion on this subject.

I think religious America has to come to terms with the reality that the two have been wed together in ways that have been culturally accepted and even desired by the majority but have not been true to the intent of the constitution in outworking specific matters of separation between church and state.

The growing secularization of the country as viewed by many religious people is, for some people, simply the rebalancing of our country’s application of constitutional law.

What kind of America all this produces is deeply problematic to those who orient their public and private lives from a Judea-Christian worldview. For others this is seen as an expansion of civil liberties, blossoming of greater equality and justice and an end to the dominant conservative religious framework in place in many of our American institutions.

I see the divide between secular and sacred increasing and producing accompanying means and measures to express and celebrate whichever worldview one holds. Some will welcome this change, other’s will not.

Pastor Eric Blauer

Rev. Bill Ellis

Marriage is an institution with both legal and spiritual ramifications and it is also one of the very few places, perhaps the only place, left in society in which ordained ministers function as officers of the state in certifying that a valid and legal marriage has occurred.  That creates confusion around the question of legalizing same-sex marriage because it is both a theological and a legal issue.  As we all know opinions vary about the theological dimensions of this question and the bible gets quoted rather liberally on both sides of the issue.  My personal opinion, and this opinion does not necessarily represent the views of the management, is that the bible is completely silent on the modern question of two people falling in love and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together who happen to be of the same sex.  The assumption of all the writers of scripture was in complete accord with the standard thinking of the day: all men like women, and all women like men, and therefore to engage in sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex is to go against your own nature. Every biblical text cited on this question makes this assumption, an assumption we now know is simply not true.  Sexual orientation is not so simple as we once thought and our theological thinking needs to evolve on this issue, as it has evolved on other questions.  Men really can fall in love with men, and women with women. People of the same sex really do devote themselves to each other for “as long as both shall live.”   More than that, common sense, and universal experience, tells us that marriage is mostly not about sex and to focus the question of marriage around sex distorts both the institution and that particular form of intimacy.   At the theological level therefore I am in favor of same-sex marriage.  However, I believe it would be a serious violation of the freedom of religion to compel any church, or its ministers, to solemnize such unions.  There are people, indeed whole denominations, who stand in serious disagreement with my thoughts on this and on no account should the state structure any resolution of this question in a manner that creates ambiguity about the freedom of a minister to refuse to act as an officer of the state.  A religious official has a freedom that a justice of the peace does not have, the freedom to refuse for any or no reason, to officiate at a wedding.  That freedom must be preserved.

On the legal and social side of the issue the question, in my opinion, is more straightforward.  The state has no business telling two competent people of legal age who love each other and intend to spend the rest of their lives together, that they may not get married and thus enjoy the host of legal benefits that accrue to marriage.  It is a question of civil rights and of equal protection under the law.  Indeed, just as the state has a positive interest in protecting opposite sex marriage, so too does the state have a positive interest in protecting same sex marriage.  I truly hope that this question can be resolved state by state, rather than by judicial decree, as was the case with Roe v. Wade.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Celebrating Epiphany by bringing light to West Central

By Tracy Simmons

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews speaks at Epiphany Celebration in West Central/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

Many residents may think West Central Neighborhood is disadvantaged.

A 46-year-old man was shot to death there a month ago. Neighborhood Scout labeled it as low-income, and there are 19 registered sex offenders living within a 5-block radius of Salem Lutheran Church.

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, however, doesn’t see it as destitute. She sees God’s light in the neighborhood, she said. And on Friday night her church, Salem Lutheran, hosted an Epiphany celebration designed to remind the West Central community of just that.

“Today is the Feast of Epiphany, when we celebrate that God’s light is manifested in every place, and especially in any location that’s struggled with darkness or dimness,” she said. “Every location has its darkness.”

Through a bonfire and lantern ceremony about 25 people gathered in the church courtyard, formed a circle around a small campfire and sang songs to conclude the Christmas season.

Homemade lanterns held at Epiphany ceremony/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

“We have lit this fire because Jesus Christ is the light of the world, a light no darkness can overcome,” she said to the crowd. “We’re here to give thanks that the light is returning to the world. We have gathered around this light and we will very soon carry our light to be a witness that God’s love is present in Spokane, in West Central and Browne’s Addition and all the neighborhoods that we live and work.”

With that she lead the group on a short march through the neighborhood, together singing songs and holding handmade lanterns.

Group sings while marching in West Central Neighborhood/Tracy Simmons - Religion News Spokane

Larson Andrews said she wants the neighborhood to know that no matter its reputation, God is still there.

“God loves West Central and all that lives here, the people, the critters, the land itself,” she said.

Several members from All Saints Lutheran, a nearby church, also attended the ceremony.

Rev. Alan B. Eschenbacher said Epiphany is too often overlooked. It’s a time to reflect on God’s presence and the interconnectedness that all people share, he said.

“Sometimes we need to stop and recognize the light that’s there to shine,” he said. “Plus, who doesn’t like to gather around a fire?”

View more images in our Epiphany Celebration photo album.

Gays welcome: local church becomes open and affirming

By Tracy Simmons

It’s been a long and difficult conversation.

For two decades the Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ tabled the gay issue. Should homosexuals be welcomed into the church? Should they be allowed to marry? Participate? Be ordained?

Until last year no one could agree.

Rev. Linda Crowe, of Veradale United Church of Christ, has been rooting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), rights the whole time.  It’s no wonder her voice rings with excitement when talking about her congregation’s recent decision to become open and affirming.

“I recognized as we were going through this process that it was sacred work,” she said. “And I was aware that what we were doing was historic in the life of the church.”

For 17 years she’s served as the pastor the Spokane Valley church and said in that time she’s watched the 100-member congregation evolve into a social justice machine.

At a leadership retreat last year church members agreed on a new mission statement for Veradale UCC, “Worshiping God in Christ, welcoming all, working for justice and peace.”

Members noted, however, the mission statement would only work if the church officially became open and affirming.

For years Veradale UCC has had gay members in its pews. Last year it adopted several people from Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church, a gay church that had to close its doors.

“Why do we have to do this if we’re already welcoming?,” some Veradale members asked.

Crowe said the church’s LGBT members have learned the hard way that some churches aren’t as welcoming as they seem.

“A lot of churches don’t mean it. Their welcome is limited,” she said, adding that some churches won’t allow homosexuals to teach classes, serve on the vestry, etc.

Rev. Mike Denton, conference minister, said going through the open and affirming process makes a loud statement.

“There are several churches that are essentially open and affirming but haven’t gone through the process and I’ve come to recognize the importance of doing it in a public way.”

Carol Ehrhart, president of the Inland Northwest LGBT Center, agreed with Denton.

“Many people in the gay community feel, or have felt, victimized by their church,” she said. “Many people, 20 or 30 years after they left the church, still feel very torn about their beliefs, who they are and how they were created … so when churches do open and up say, ‘Hey we’re affirming, you’re welcome here, we understand you’re God’s creation, you’re the way you’re supposed to be and we accept that,’ it’s a very powerful statement.”

In the UCC decisions come from the ground-up. Denton said major verdicts are up to the congregation, but added that he’s always happy to hear about church voting to open its doors to the gay community.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m supportive when churches make this decision,” he said.

The open and affirming process, organized by the UCC Coalition for GLBT Concerns, includes several months of discussion groups, workshops and forums. Crowe said her church also studied UCC history.

“We looked at antislavery issues and other social justice issues that the church has been involved in to help frame the conversation about why becoming open and affirming is a social justice issue,” she said.

Though opening its doors to gays and lesbians was the main issue, the congregation took it further by adopting a statement that included people of all ages, genders, gender identities, races, national origins, faith backgrounds, marital statuses, family structures, mental or physical conditions, economic statuses and educational backgrounds.

“Jesus openly affirmed diversity and so do we,” it reads, “We believe all people are created in God’s image and all people are loved equally by God.”

Crowe said Veradale is starting its 101st year as a fresh, new church.

“We’re not wringing our hands worrying how to survive,” she said. “We’re gung-ho about the future.”

In the past year the church has gained 25 new members and didn’t lose any during its open and affirming process. Crowe said some church shoppers are looking for a welcoming church; others may walk out the door when they learn about its progressive stance.

“There are plenty of conservative churches here, plenty of choices for them,” she said.

According to the Affirming Christian Church Directory there are less than a dozen open and affirming churches in Spokane.

The last United Church of Christ congregation in the immediate area to become open and affirming was Westminster UCC in 2005. Rev. Andrea CastroLang, pastor of Westminster, said the process was unnerving. She wasn’t sure if there would be picketers and, just to be safe, the police gave the area some extra attention.

Thankfully, CastroLang said, the church only received some “nasty emails.” She said Spokane has changed since then.

“I think that Spokane’s insular community identity is really changing,” she said. “A lot of folks from other parts of the country are moving to Spokane and it’s changing our demographics in a good way. So now we’ve got a better chance of being an open and affirming city.”

Denton said several UCC churches in the conference are currently going through the open and affirming process.

“The conversation has changed a lot just in the past 10 years,” he said.

The Sanctity of Equality

By Blogger Rev. Todd F. Eklof

Rev. Todd Eklof

As activists in Washington are gearing up to take another go at getting a marriage equality bill on the state ballot, perhaps we should all begin reconsidering the meaning of the word “sanctity.”

In 2004, President George W. Bush made what he called, “the sanctity of marriage,” a major reelection issue, calling for a constitutional ban on all same-sex marriages. “Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society,” he said (without further explanation). He also asked Congress to draft an amendment, “defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as a husband and wife.” Not only did he narrowly win a second term that year, but 11 states also passed their own constitutional laws officially prohibiting gay marriage, including Kentucky, where I was living at the time.

What’s most disturbing about this to me, as an American, is that it’s entirely unconstitutional for our government, state or federal, to pass laws protecting the “sanctity” of anything! “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion!” Given the expensive, “One Man, One Woman: God’s Plan for Marriage,” campaign funded by religious conservatives across the land, it seems our nation’s top executive, along with many other elected officials, decided to disregard the Constitution in favor of the mob mentality.

Although I do not question the value of marriage for those who freely choose it, I cannot comprehend where this belief in its “sanctity” comes from. In Western theology God is a “single male” whose most intimate relationship is with another man, Jesus. Jesus himself did not marry and, in fact, suggested that ideally people, “will neither marry nor be given in marriage, they will be like the angels in heaven.” [Mark 12:25] And we all know that Jesus’ vision was to create Heaven here on Earth, among us, which, apparently, he saw as being egalitarian and androgynous. Likewise, Paul, the most influential founder of Christianity, discouraged marriage because those who do, “will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.” [I Cor. 7:28] Although he did not advocate divorce for those who were already married, he did say, “from now on those who have wives should live as though they had none.”

As for God’s “One Man, One Woman,” plan for marriage, tell it to Abraham, the founder of Israel, who was married to Sarah and Hagar; to Jacob, its favorite son, who married both Rachel and her sister Leah; to David, its most revered King who had six wives; to Solomon, considered its wisest ruler ever, who had 700 wives; not to mention his grandson, Rehoboam, the nation’s greatest reformer, who had a modest number of only 18 wives. Historically speaking, marriage has been but a one-sided social contract arranged between males exchanging females, and has been mostly polygamous (one male, many wives). Both Jesus and Paul favored more egalitarian arrangements in which men and women were considered the same, in which, as Paul put it “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

But equality is difficult for those dominator cultures that thrive on the very few exploiting everyone else. So, after Rome made Christianity its official state religion, the first thing its legislator-priests did was to take control of marriage by maintaining exclusive authority over all social contracts. By the 16th century, just 500 years ago, the Council of Trent made it necessary for every marriage to be performed in the presence of a priest and only then defined it as the union of a man and woman who were obligated to live together for the rest of their lives. In doing so, they usurped Paul’s vision of a society without ethnic, economic, or gender divisions, adhering, instead, to a verse of scripture illegitimately forged in his name; “the husband is the head of the house as Christ is head of the church.” [Eph. 5:23] Those who could not handle living in an egalitarian society made the nuclear family the nucleus of its hierarchical, patriarchal culture.

For years in our country conservatives have been promoting traditional “family values” for this very reason, although the only families they’re really in favor of are those that reflect this dominator model. As linguist George Lakoff has noted, “The strict father is moral authority and master of the household, dominating the mother and children and imposing needed discipline. Contemporary conservative politics turns these family values into political values: hierarchical authority, individual discipline, military might.” And the one thing certain about this model, he continues, is that, “Marriage in the strict father family must be heterosexual marriage.”

Jesus, by contrast, in whose name such bigotry is somehow being justified, clearly said, “Call no one on earth your father.” [Matt. 23:9] He challenged the patriarchal structures of his day and ended up paying with his life. In their place he promoted an egalitarian society in which everyone shared what they had in common, and loved one another as their equals, as themselves. The early Christians took this so seriously, in fact, that they actually began cross-dressing in church. That’s right, some of the first Christians were gender-benders! The controversy over men appearing as women and women as men is explicitly mentioned in I Corinthians, chapter 7. Paul supposedly ends up criticizing such behavior as “disgraceful,” although many scholars consider these words to have been inserted into the text by someone else, since they contradict his other egalitarian, free-spirited, “all things are lawful for you,” teachings. But that this controversy existed at all shows just how seriously the first Christians took equality! Thus, according to the biblical evidence, it’s not really the “sanctity of marriage” believers should be worrying about, but the “sanctity of equality,” and the unholy marriage between Church and State that continues to have a foothold in our nation today.