Lambda Urges Religious Leaders to Support Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples

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Critical weeks ahead in the fight for freedom to marry in Hawaii, Alaska, & Vermont
August 13, 1998

(NEW YORK, August 13, 1998) -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday that recent statements by some religious groups on their marriage doctrines are disappointing but do not affect progress towards winning the freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples under civil law.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "Marriage is both a civil and religious institution. As courts and legislatures across the country grapple with ending discrimination in civil marriage, religious organizations are also beginning to debate the issue." She added, "This ongoing tug-of-war resembles the back and forth of similar civil rights battles in the past."

Lambda is co-counsel with Honolulu attorney Dan Foley in a Hawaii lawsuit for three couples who want licenses to marry. The couples won a resounding victory in a state trial court in late 1996, and their case, Baehr v. Miike, is now before the Hawaii Supreme Court. A case similar to Hawaii's is pending in Vermont.

At the same time, right-wing activists in Alaska and Hawaii are promoting state amendments aimed at prohibiting same-sex couples from ever marrying. With just over 80 days left until the November 3 elections, opponents hope to enshrine discrimination in the states' constitutions.

"Religious leaders have a particular opportunity here to help people understand the difference between civil and religious marriage. They also have a chance to support the important values of love, caring, self-sacrifice, and commitment for all families," said Lambda Marriage Project Director Evan Wolfson. "The disappointing actions by some denominations should not overshadow the steps toward inclusion so many others are taking."

Indeed, while some have rushed to attack this civil rights advance, others are supporting equality in marriage. Coretta Scott King, Episcopalian Bishop Walter Righter, the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), the California Council of Churches, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries, New York City's Riverside Church and its pastor the Reverend James Forbes have already joined thousands of other individuals and organizations in endorsing Lambda's Marriage Resolution.

The Resolution says, "Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice, RESOLVED, the State should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitment of civil marriage."

In the past week, Methodist leaders ruled against clergy members conducting religious marriages for lesbian and gay couples, and Anglican bishops passed an even broader resolution that gay sex is "incompatible with the Scripture." Both votes are part of the right-wing's efforts to curtail growing public support for ending discrimination in marriage.

"In all 50 states today, lesbian and gay couples are denied the freedom to marry no matter how long they have been together, no matter how committed their relationships, and no matter how much they and their families need the protections that come with civil marriage," said Jon W. Davidson, supervising attorney of Lambda's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, adding, "We now are on the verge of ending this discrimination. In religious circles, as in society generally, continuing dialogue is the key."


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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 (pager)

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