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Pro-Equality Clergy Ask the Washington Legislature to Stop Infringing on Their Religious Freedom

Washington’s marriage equality bill got its first public hearings in House and Senate committees on Monday. Faith leaders both Jewish and Christian came forward to testify in support of the bill. Their message to the legislature was clear: stop discriminating against our right to solemnize marriages for gay and lesbian couples. Civil marriage laws should facilitate free religious expression, not hinder it based on one sect’s beliefs.

Below the fold are 1-minute excerpts from testimony offered on Monday by several of the religious leaders speaking in support of the marriage equality bill. But first, here is how Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Seattle’s Temple Beth Am summed it up at a press conference after the morning committee hearing:

I came here today to support this bill because I think it’s a vote not only for civil rights but for religious equality in our country. In our synagogues in the Reform Movement, we want to be able to perform gay and lesbian weddings and not have the state prevent us from doing that which we think is religiously correct. We don’t want one religious perspective in the country to be the state’s perspective, but to let each house of worship follow the freedom of its conscience.

Rev. Anne Eidson, United Church of Christ, assures legislators that our laws have always and will continue to allow clergy to refuse to conduct weddings as they see fit. [cont’d.]

I’m well aware that there are people out there who are arguing this based on religious grounds, that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Without arguing here the basis for those beliefs, as a clergywoman I will simply state that religion has no bearing on our legal laws in this state.

As a pastor I have always been able to decide who I will marry. I’ve declined to conduct weddings for straight folks that I did not consider prepared for marriage. Those folks have had the right, though, to go to somebody else and become legally married. It will be no different under this law. A pastor with more conservative beliefs can still refuse to marry a gay and lesbian couple. This isn’t as difficult as conservative folks make it sound.

Rev. Chris Boerger, bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, describes how state law currently infringes on the freedom of religion for ELCA clergy.

In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to commit itself to find ways to allow congregations who choose to do so to support and hold publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same gender relationships. That’s quite a mouthful: publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

One of the people who had questions about our doing this said, “Bishop, isn’t that marriage?” And my response is, “Well, in everything but name.” The reality is, the Lutheran church has always held that it is the state that defines what marriage is; it’s the church that then blesses people who enter into that relationship.

We have now stated our desire to bless those who are publicly accountable in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. We can’t call it marriage–you can. That’s why I am here today to say there will be those in my church who will not participate; we understand that freedom. There are those who want to, and we ask for that freedom.

Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Temple Beth Am in Seattle describes how the state is not only discriminating against same-sex couples but against the freedom of religious expression for Jews.

In synagogues this past week we read about the Pharaoh hardening his heart. And we understand when we interpret this story that we have to remind ourselves there are times to look into our spiritual mirror and realize at times sometimes we may be the ones who are oppressing. We have let go of per-conceived notions about what is right and acceptable.

In the Jewish tradition we call marriage kiddushin, an act of holiness. Fifteen years ago I decided I wanted to officiate at marriages for same-sex couples. My synagogue, which is one of the largest synagogues in the state, agreed to do so. But we know that this is still a second class status, so I am here to bear witness to the fact that I along with many other religious representatives believe that the state is discriminating not only against same-sex couples, but against the freedom of our religious expression.

We along with the Seattle Jewish Federation, which represents a wide spectrum of Jews in the state of Washington, and the National Reform Movement — the largest expression of American Judaism — embrace the passing of this bill. None of us want to impose our perspective on others, but let this be a year that we soften our hearts to families and religious leaders who are searching for freedom, wishing to be treated equally by the state. Let others make their decisions in the marketplace of religious ideas and freedom. Let us pass marriage equality for all.

Rev. Lois van Leer, United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist Association, rejects the notion that anyone should be asked to remain separate and unequal.

I’ve been a minister for nearly 30 years, and it has been my great privilege and responsibility to officiate at almost 100 weddings of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

All relationships of longevity seek the recognition of the religious community, the state, friends and family. Marriage in this country is the most public and highest expression the commitment of a couple. Love is the private commitment of the heart, and marriage is the public declaration of that love.

In this country, marriage is a legal, discriminatory institution conferring over 1,000 special rights to opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples have been offered the separate and unequal compromise of civil unions and domestic partnerships. As a friend said to me, would you have said to Rosa Parks, “you don’t have to sit at the back of the bus, you can sit in the middle”? Until Washington joins other states in equalizing marriage and the rights it confers, it is offering the middle of the bus to same-sex partners.

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Pam Spaulding

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