Gay Marriage May End in Divorce at The Supreme Court

Thge Spiritual Herald

WASHINGTON–New York’s approval of same-sex marriage is just the first round in what will be a lengthy and fractious heavyweight legal battle that will wind up in the laps of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, who is gay himself, spelled out a robust list of lawsuits the organization has filed in states across the nation.

“We are in this for the long haul,” said Romero, “and we should have been taking the cases of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans long before now. But we are making up for it, and will not rest until all Americans are given equal treatment in marriage and every other respect no matter what their sexual orientation.”

Romero rattled off a rash of current lawsuits filed by the ACLU alleging that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

“No matter what happens at the state levels with these suits, we believe the entire issue will go to the U.S. Supreme Court next year,” said Romero. “Which is fine with us because we believe the Constitution is on our side.”

ACLU suits are active in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and many more are being prepared in a half-dozen more states, said Romero.

In addition to the legal wrangling, the emotional aspects of the hot-button issue are tearing apart liberal Protestant churches where some ministers are still quietly performing same-sex unions in defiance of church orders, putting their careers on the line.

Richard Harding, 85, a retired Methodist minister in Massachusetts, put it succinctly: “I have been performing gay marriages for years. It is a just thing to do.”

One church group that is split over the issue is the Methodists, where a growing number of pastors are saying they will defy the ban on marrying gays. Some ministers are even suggesting that the issue will cause a complete split into two denominations.

The Rev. Amy Del Long, 44, of Osceola, Wisc., who is a lesbian, said she willingly violates the church prohibition of marrying same-sex couples.

“I told my supervisors years ago that I was a lesbian and recently told them I would perform such weddings if asked,” she said. “It has not been easy, but I felt it was the right thing to do.” She faces charges that could lead to her suspension, but church elders would not discuss the matter.

Del Long is not alone in the Methodist ranks. Several hundred clergy members, active and retired, said they would perform gay marriages, according to unofficial surveys of clerics.

The progress that has been made by gays and lesbians on the legal front has not diminished the pain and suffering they go through to achieve their goal on the emotional front.

“It is a difficult road, but one we must travel to win our rights,” said Heather Mizeur, a Maryland state legislator who is openly gay. “We have been marching in the direction of legal marriages for some time now, and our goal is finally reachable.”

Mizeur, one of seven openly gay legislators in the Maryland House of Delegates, has been working to make the state the seventh to sign a gay marriage bill into law. Gov. Martin O’Malley said he would sign such a bill.

“Gay marriage is simply the human right to do what other married people take for granted, like granting protections to spouses for health insurance benefits and pensions as well as a host of other things, such as normal hospital visits if your partner gets sick,” Mizeur noted. “We are talking about humanity here.”

Lauren Long, a California divorcee who has been in a lesbian relationship for several years, spelled out the problem:

“When your partner is seriously ill, and a hospital official tells you that you cannot visit her because you are not a family member, it really hurts,” she said. “I know because it happened to me. Luckily someone on the hospital staff has some pity–and brains–and allowed me into the room of my partner.”

So these are the human events that often are overlooked as the same-sex union debate takes a legal turn.

But the denial of rights for gay partners does not hold water for many opponents of the unions.

A vehement argument against the unions is coming from formidable religions that have begun intense lobbying against gay marriage efforts– the Catholic, evangelical Baptist and Orthodox Jewish leaders who consider such a union a sin against God and the teachings of the Bible.

“Plain and simple, we don’t consider such unions as normal,” said a conservative Southern Baptist pastor. “Neither does the Bible.”

But a great many other denominations are coming to the defense of same-sex unions as a human right.

Such denominations as Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians are being thrown into turmoil over the issue because more of them are beginning to support such unions, many quietly, however. Even the liberal clergy know that any support for same-sex unions puts their charities, hospitals and other social network institutions at risk.

Already, Catholic Charities has stopped participating in adoption services in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C, which approved same-sex unions, because they do not want children placed in homes of gay and lesbian couples.

There will be no give on either side, as the legal and spiritual apparatus is moving into high gear.

The states that currently allow marriages for gay and lesbian couples are New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New York and Washington, D.C. And three states–Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware–created civil unions for same-sex couples this year.

One of the most important lawsuits on the issue is taking place in federal court in Nashville, Tenn., where a diverse coalition of the nation’s leading religions–Southern Baptists, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox Jews–have filed a legal brief as friend of the court that says allowing homosexual marriages could adversely affect the children raised in such unions.

The brief states: “We have seen the enormous benefits that traditional male-female marriage imparts…and also have witnessed the substantial adverse consequences for children, parents and civil society that often flow from alternative household arrangement.”

The brief was filed after a landmark decision in Massachusetts struck down DOMA. “Striking down DOMA does not take the morality out of marriage debate,” the brief said.

The religious coalition is the largest group ever assembled on one issue. Besides the four faiths mentioned, the brief is also signed by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Open Bible Churches, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, the Evangelical Free Church of America, the Brethren in Christ Church, and the Christian Missionary Alliance.

While the legal efforts grow, so do the pro-active campaigns of the religions and their conservative supporters.

The Washington-based political lobby, the National Organization for Marriage, whose sole purpose is to fight same-sex marriage efforts, has begun a blitz of lobbying the federal and state governments, including e-mails, phone calls and personal visits to lawmakers and voters.

Brian Brown, the president, says his organization will “spend many millions of dollars to reject and defeat gay and lesbian marriage supporters and that includes anyone in Congress or in state legislatures. The issue is that important to America families.”

Legal scholars are certain that the nation’s highest court will ultimately decide all the lawsuits that are being filed in dozens of states over same-sex unions.

“It is inevitable that the Supreme Court holds the final key to unlocking the door that provides equal opportunity for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Americans,” said Romero. “The New York legislature and governor provided us with a partial victory, but there is still a long road ahead.”

The same-sex issue touches the nerves of many Americans, including conservative religious leaders, top lawyers and civil rights scholars, political heavyweights on both sides of the aisle and–last but not least–the gay couples who seek equality under the law.

This transformation is what the problem is, say conservative religious and political leaders, who say the issue is dividing religions, putting impossible barriers into the process of marriage rights and doing something that the majority of Americans condemn.

Recognizing gay marriages is not going to happen in the Catholic Church, or the evangelical Baptist church or in conservative Jewish denominations—at least not in the foreseeable future, say religious scholars like Martin Marty, the respected professor of theology at the University of Chicago.

Marty is absolutely correct if you listen to Bishop Joseph Mattera, pastor of the Resurrection R.C. Church of Brooklyn, who is leading the lobbying against lesbian and gay unions.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman, period,” said Mattera, who is soliciting the help of the tea party members in Staten Island and other sections of New York.

Mattera heads the political advocacy group called Christ Covenant Coalition, and has assembled networks of hundreds of clergy of all faiths to combat the unions.

But more and more liberal pastors are accepting the new rules governing marriage, saying they are fair because many gay partners cannot participate in health care plans or wills or other legal benefits of marriage.

Hundreds of Methodist clergy from Illinois, Minnesota, New York and New England have signed statements in recent weeks asserting their willingness to marry gay couples in church. And many are today, even if they keep it quiet.

Those who do will be charged with violating denominational laws and are facing church trials. Penalties are defrocking or suspension from the ministry, but penalties are few and far between.

However, such unions are being performed all over the nation by legitimate clergy.

“We were married in an Episcopalian church in New York City by a priest,” said a gay lawyer who asked for anonymity, “and it was a beautiful ceremony attended by our families and friends. Just like a normal wedding, if you want to use that term. We don’t say ‘like’—we say it was a normal wedding.”

Such ceremonies are becoming common.

In Minnesota, the Rev. Bruce Robbins of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church invited clergy to sign a statement saying they were willing to conduct any wedding, not just a heterosexual one. More than 70 pastors signed it, he said, along with hundreds of lay people who supported them.

“We have so many other tragedies in the world, like poverty and justice issues, that it is a shame we have to make this issue to be the center of the our efforts. It is an unfair law of the church, and we should reject it completely,” Robbins stated.

The chances of getting the Methodist Church to change its rules are remote. Rule changes must be approved by delegates at the church’s General Conference, held every four years. But because of a growing number of conservative Methodists from Africa, the Philippines and other regions, there would be great resistance to such a change.

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