our callingFrom the President
Family values for diverse families
I write this a week after the religious right’s latest foray into the public debate over family values. This time it was Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, opining that for the Supreme Court to endorse a right to privacy for gay individuals to consensual sex in their own homes would be “antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”
The religious right finds threats to the family pretty much everywhere it finds difference. To them, “family values” are rules that require everyone’s family to look like their families, love like their families, and believe in the same things as their families—or else be excluded from the definition of “family.”
As religious liberals, we have a different view. We have long worked to expand the conversation about family values to reflect the reality that there are many kinds of families in this country. Our values ground us in respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and our experience tells us that our diversity is to be celebrated rather than feared. Our Association has intentionally affirmed the variety of families in our faith community and made a commitment to support our congregations in helping all of our families strengthen themselves and to grow in spirit, love, and justice.
Unitarian Universalist ministers have been performing ceremonies of union for gay couples since 1984. In 1996, amid the acrimonious congressional debate over the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman), our General Assembly affirmed our support for legalizing gay marriage. Last November, the UUA signed a friend of the court brief in support of seven gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts whose applications for marriage licenses had been rejected.
This year, a growing number of ministers in our movement, myself included, have pledged not to sign marriage certificates until such time as gay couples can legally marry. In the words of the Rev. David Pettee, the UUA’s director of ministerial credentialing, this constitutes a refusal to collude “with the state’s position to extend the many privileges and benefits of marriage to only certain couples—heterosexual couples.”
The religious right tries—often successfully—to create the impression that its is the only religious voice on family values. But most Americans believe discrimination against gays and lesbians is wrong. A third currently favors gay marriage nationally, but those numbers are shifting: In Massachusetts, and also in a large and predominantly working-class and Catholic county in New Jersey where another major gay marriage case is being heard, majorities now favor legalizing gay marriage; many more favor civil unions.
As religious liberals, we are called to speak and act out of our principles and purposes. When we raise our voices and act from this ground, we can be extraordinarily effective in strengthening the liberal religious voice for justice.
That is why I am making family values and family matters central to my public witness work over the next three years. The furor that followed Senator Santorum’s April remarks suggests that our convictions about the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons are shared by a growing segment of the American public. Gay marriage is now legal in Belgium and in the Netherlands, and was upheld in late April by the Court of Appeals in British Columbia, Canada.
There is much promise, but there is work to be done. We cannot let the
Religious Right act as if they speak for all persons of faith when they
denounce love between persons of the same sex as somehow threatening to
the rest of the culture. We know it isn’t so. But we will have to
keep standing up in the public square and voicing, consistently and clearly,
our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person.