While the battle over gay marriage is being fought heatedly in the courts and legislatures, the rightful place of gays in religious life is being agonized over as well. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but it seems to me the deliberations of a Methodist “court” is a remarkable synecdoche of the nation’s concerns and, perhaps, ultimate judgment on the matter:
- After a three-day trial, a jury of fellow ministers acquitted an Ellensburg, Wash., pastor of violating United Methodist Church law by living openly as a lesbian, saying the church has not clearly declared homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching.
Yesterday’s verdict is a milestone for liberals in the church who want to reverse its ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” in the clergy, and it is a defeat for conservatives seeking to hold the line against the gay rights movement in the church and in secular society.
If the Rev. Karen Dammann had been convicted, she could have lost her job as pastor of the 200-member First United Methodist Church in rural Ellensburg and been permanently removed from the ministry.
Methodists on both sides of the issue predicted that the decision would reverberate through the 8.3 million-member denomination, much as the consecration of a gay bishop has embroiled the Episcopal Church in a debate between the authority of scriptural passages that condemn homosexuality and the desire to be an inclusive, tolerant religious community.
….Under church rules, a conviction requires at least nine votes, or two-thirds of the 13 jurors. Eleven jurors voted not guilty, and two were undecided.
In a written statement, the jury said it reached its decision “after many hours of painful and prayerful deliberation and listening for and to the word of God.” Although it found Dammann to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” the jury said it did not have “clear and convincing evidence” that she was guilty of the charge of “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.”
“We searched the discipline and did not find a declaration that ‘The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,’ ” the jury said. “We did see in the discipline many declarative statements. An example is: ‘Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the church, the community and the world. Thus, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination.’ ”
…. the jury had to weigh a series of carefully balanced phrases in the church’s legal code, the fruit of many hard-won legislative compromises. On one hand, the church’s Book of Discipline says that because “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve” as pastors.
On the other hand, it also says that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons,” that homosexuals “are individuals of sacred worth,” that “God’s grace is available to all,” and that “certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons.”
….defense witnesses included a blind minister, an African American minister and a female theologian who reminded the jury that there was a time when church laws barred women and blacks from ministry and that the 21st chapter of Leviticus prohibits people with various disabilities, including blindness, from serving as priests.
….”We realize that the church is divided regarding issues related to homosexuality,” the jury said in its statement. “We, the Trial Court, are far from unanimous regarding biblical and theological understandings.” [Washington Post]
We will see it the Methodist’s ruling in favor of inclusion – that homosexuals “are individuals of sacred worth,” that “God’s grace is available to all,” and that “certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons” – becomes the verdict of the land.
USA Today has an excellent overview and history of the gay marriage movement today:
- For years, gay rights groups, working independently, waged court battles over same-sex marriage and lobbied, mostly in vain, against state laws banning it. Then came November’s Massachusetts court decision legalizing gay marriage, a turning point that thrust the issue onto the front page.
But it took a carefully orchestrated plan by Gavin Newsom, the straight, Irish Catholic mayor of San Francisco, to put human faces on a largely theoretical debate when he ordered city officials last month to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The spectacle of 4,037 gay and lesbian couples lining up for days outside the city’s historic City Hall, images that energized their partisans coast to coast, was calculated to stymie opponents and gain maximum exposure. Heterosexuals flocked to the cause, much as whites joined the civil rights movement.
The caustic national debate that followed already is roiling national politics.
President Bush, under pressure from conservatives, called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Legislators in at least 12 states moved to amend their own constitutions. From New Paltz, N.Y., to Sandoval County, N.M., Asbury Park, N.J., San Jose, Calif., Seattle and Portland, Ore., cities and counties across the USA began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, or debating whether to.
“They’re seeing the mayor of San Francisco and saying, ‘Hey, we can do that, too,’ ” says David Garrow, a civil rights historian at Emory University in Atlanta. “So in a way, San Francisco is the Greensboro of this movement.”
Gays who always yearned for marriage now smell victory. Vermont-like “civil unions” that confer marriage’s benefits without calling it marriage won’t be enough anymore. Anything short of full marriage reduces gays, like women and blacks before them, to second-class citizenship, advocates say. Blaming activist judges, conservatives say the “lawlessness” in San Francisco and elsewhere ignited a backlash that will be decisive for Bush in November. They see public opinion trending their way.
“The more this moves out of the courts and into the public debate, the stronger the support for the protections of marriage,” says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
But gay groups believe that they’re on the right side of history and that even a right-leaning Supreme Court would stop short of excluding a class of people from the Constitution’s protections.
Conservatives know they’re on the wrong side of the demographic curve. Acceptance of gay behavior has risen markedly since the AIDS death toll declined, as fewer Americans identify with organized religion and as older generations die off, says Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center.
Support for gay marriage has swung between 31% and 39% since Bush took office, according to USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Polls. But in 1988, it was only 12%, according to the research center.
Younger voters are more tolerant of gay lifestyles, Smith says. In a USA TODAY Poll March 5-7, about half the 18- to 29-year-olds said they support legal recognition of same-sex marriage, compared with 19% of those over 65.
Attitudes about race and marriage track similarly. In 1958, nine years before the Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage, a Gallup Poll found that more than nine in 10 Americans objected to black-white unions. By 2002, just one in 10 thought they should be prohibited.
….Over the past decade, battles focused on domestic-partner benefits, workplace discrimination, child custody, adoption and other issues besides marriage. But gays never stopped pushing for marriage. Their hopes rose when the Supreme Court struck down state sodomy laws in July and when the Massachusetts high court issued its ruling. Court-ordered gay marriages in Ontario left an impression south of the border.
Because courts have recognized gay couples’ rights to many of the benefits of marriage, sanctioning gay marriage is inevitable, some legal scholars say. Treating same-sex couples as if they’re married for purposes of parenting rights such as adoption and custody has undermined opponents’ arguments, says Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard University law professor.
Once courts condone gay parenting, all that’s left is “the insistence on stigmatizing these families,” she says. “And courts have never been very sympathetic to stigmatizing children simply because their parents are supposedly living in some state of sin.”
There’s much more, check it out.