We were baffled by the lack of letters concerning our May/June cover story on same-sex marriage. Out of a total of thirteen letters, two protested the image of the SUV on the cover, four were in favor of same-sex marriage, five were opposed, and two were on matters related to same-sex marriage. This is surprising for a topic that has drawn so much response in the past. The July/August 1994 issue, which ran a package of stories on homosexuality including a photo essay on commitment ceremonies, elicited a record response from readers with about half of the letters running positive and half negativeand none of them dispassionate.
In thinking about it, we came up with three possible explanations. To put the most positive spin on it: Same-sex marriage has become so accepted among UUs that it hardly draws any response; it's simply “preaching to the choir.” Another reason could be media overkill: Readers were simply burned out on the issue, which received extensive national and even international coverage. As the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA's Advocacy and Witness staff group, put it, “There is so much buzz on the non-UU media generated by same-sex marriage, that having UU World do something was pretty much a yawn.” Third, UUs who oppose same-sex marriage and/or the UUA's longstanding support of it may feel alienated by their disagreement with UUA policy and think it would be a waste of energy to write.
Regardless of the reason, it's interesting to reflect on the distance our society has come in the last ten years. What was hot news in 1994 hardly rates a letter in 2004. So what's next on the horizon?
Thanks to UU World for your thorough and thoughtful coverage of the same-sex marriage issue (May/June). As a lesbian mom with two children it has been a brutal time as the Minnesota legislature has debated a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. It's a time when my faith in society has been challenged.
In a recent book, Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is, Abigail Garner speaks of society's view of gays and lesbians as either “homo-hostile” or “homo-hesitant.” The latter may socialize, sympathize, or worship with gays and lesbians but have a hard time understanding how something like the right to marry is a basic need for GLBT families. I'm grateful you were bold, not hesitant. I now know my faith tradition truly supports my partner, my family, and me.
Please forgive my intrusion on UU fantasies of history, but aren't we jumping the gun on this gay marriage thing? Besides at GA, where was the debate on this issue in regular congregations, especially in a denomination holding many opinions? Why one policy now?
I'll defend gay and lesbian rights as society advances, but as the Iraq war is proving, rushing into the “big questions” without debate has dire consequences.
I was pleased to see your coverage of same-sex marriage in the May/June issue. As Unitarian Universalists we have a special role to play in the same-sex marriage debate. Unlike most of our counterparts in other faith communities, we can bring our public voice to the arena without threat of consequence. We do not have to be immobilized over interpretation of scripture. We have engaged in a long process of reflection and discernment and can bring our experience to other faith communities.
There is a risk, however, that public attention could be distracted from the serious issues of war and peace, poverty and justice, and revitalization of our democratic system. Many of our partners in the interfaith justice work are so caught up in the debate over same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian clergy that their work for justice is adversely impacted. There are those who would benefit from such a distraction. This is an important time for Unitarian Universalism in the public arena. May we answer the call.
As a UU for nearly forty years who usually agrees with the UUA's stand on current issues, I find myself disagreeing with its stand on same-sex marriage. I see in the recent Massachusetts court ruling not a cause for jubilation but concern.
With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the issue, we seem to be overlooking the need for closer regulation of the traditional institution of marriage. If same-sex marriage is allowed, what will we allow next? Polygamous marriage? Close-kin marriage? Age-disparate partners (adults and juveniles)? The trend is worrisome. It can and should be reversed.
I have no problem with same-sex civil unions. I only want to safeguard and strengthen traditional marriage, one of the most basic elements of our society. In weakening it, we are, despite good intentions, only contributing to further cultural decline.
While the United States courts and governments waffle on same-sex marriage, the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have had the approval of both the judiciary and the provincial governments for same-sex marriage for more than a year now. In Canada we have a lay chaplaincy program in which we train lay members of our congregations to perform rites of passage and thus relieve our ministers of some of their workload. This last year the chaplains at our Victoria church married twenty-two same-sex couples. While some of the couples were from Victoria the majority came from Washington and Oregon states. There were even couples from as far away as Georgia and North Carolina.
So if you are gay and getting impatient waiting for legislation in your state for the legalization of same-sex marriage, you are welcome in Canada, and Victoria is a particularly pretty place for a wedding.
Why did UU World not balance its coverage by covering UUs who do not support homosexual marriage instead of treating us as non-persons? The World disparages by implication majoritarian outcomes against homosexual marriage and lionizes activist, unelected judiciaries promoting civil unions and homosexual marriage, notwithstanding our UU principle of affirming and promoting the democratic process in our society at large.
As a denomination do we pay a price for a “prophetic vision”? Do we even keep track of how many members it has cost us? Does this process of driving out those who hold Unitarian and Universalist theologies, but not our social vision, ensure we will always be a marginal note on North America's religious map?
I was surprised to see Jane Adams accuse sociobiology of being “used to justify male dominance and, at its extremes, male sexual violence toward women” (Letters, May/June). She is using the wrong verb. Instead of using “justify” substitute the word “explain.” Sociobiologists or evolutionary psychologists will tell you they do not justify evil that is in us, but until we can explain the causes we will never eradicate it. Two sociobiologists wrote a book on rape a few years ago, and they were booed when they tried to give a lecture because too many people couldn't make this distinction.
Dr. Irving N. Wolfson
In the Mailbox column of UU World (May/June), you printed an excerpt from a letter in which the author claimed that “Affirming the UU principles necessarily means saying 'No!' to those who have embraced religious escapism, spiritual obscurantism, and obedience to systems of domination.” From the vehemence of that 'No,' I can only hope that he isn't in a position to counsel young or new members of his own church. Not only is such an attitude toward other seekers of truth dangerous, it is foolish as well.
William James said it best, and I'm paraphrasing: One cannot boast that one has truly evolved into a more spiritually enlightened state until the rituals and beliefs of other religions no longer incite anger or resentment.
There was a time when I shared that insecurity. I was raised a Pentecostal, became an agnostic, switched to spiritualism, tried being an Episcopalian for a while, sampled Buddhism, and then joined a Unitarian congregation. However, at this point in my life, I can say, with absolute sincerity, that I believe there is something in almost every religion that benefits the human state. It is simply a matter of finding what works best for you and taking seriously the responsibility of the spiritual work involved.
If the Rev. Elizabeth A. Lerner had spent time living with Orthodox Jews as I have, she would have been embarrassed to write such a sentimental essay (“What can Jewish Orthodoxy teach us?” May/June).
Our family is as colorful a “stew” as hers: One daughter married a Hispanic Catholic, my son's wife is Presbyterian, but another daughter married an Orthodox rabbi. They have ten children!
Their father and I come from a not-very-religious Jewish background. I've been a UU for fourteen years.
Yes, Orthodox Jews have a tradition of reverence, learning, and opportunities to lead faithful, honorable, and holy lives. But staying in my daughter's community, I've seen distraught parents smack and yell, siblings fighting and taunting, smart aleck pre-teens shoplifting, adolescent rudeness and tantrums. These things have occurred in my daughter's and her neighbors' families. In day to day living “mindfulness” is a goal—not a habit.
As both a Jew and a Unitarian, I had a particular interest in Elizabeth Lerner's article. As atheistic Jews, my husband and I supported both Reform Jewish and UU congregations in the communities where we lived during his Air Force career. In Jewish services, we squirmed unhappily at the heavy emphasis on anthropomorphic god-language. In the Unitarian services we missed a Jewish flavor and culture.
We found an answer in Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1969 as a nontheistic alternative within Judaism that recognizes that there's no verifiable proof of the existence or non-existence of a supreme being.
There is a strong affinity between Unitarian Universalism and Humanistic Judaism. Both subscribe to the right of every individual to his/her beliefs without being challenged by dogma. Both are more this-world centered with a strong interest in social justice.
I would love to see a greater recognition in the two movements of what we have in common, leading perhaps to some cooperative events, ceremonies (perhaps variations on Bar/Bat Mitzvah, baby naming, etc.), and/or social justice events. This doesn't ignore that we're also distinctly different in some respects, nor should we want to erase those differences. Together, though, we increase the critical mass of rational religionists, and we could do more than either of us can do alone!
I wanted to give you encouragement on the continuing project to provide UU World on audiocassettes. My wife, who is visually impaired, has received these since the beginning of the year. Once she is done with them, I listen to them in the car while I commute to work.
This is a truly wonderful service the World staff is providing at considerable cost to yourselves in time and effort. Please keep it going!
John I. Blair
Thank you for posting UU World archives to the UUA Web site. I have an old issue of the World (July/August 1999) that I've been hanging on to because of the article “Me vs. Us: UUs and the Democratic Process.” I really wanted to be rid of that magazine (paper is the bane of my existence!), but I didn't want to lose the article. I went to your Web site, and voilà! There was the article. As soon as I finish this e-mail, I'm putting that magazine into the recycling bin!
A Mother's Bond
I enjoyed Barbara Hamilton-Holway's essay “A Mother's Bond” (May/June). I, too have wild and crazy hair, which was a power struggle between my mother and me. I think that for my mother my unrestrainable hair somehow symbolized her unrestrainable daughter.
Several years ago, when I realized I would be turning fifty in a few months, I decided to let my hair grow as a gift to myself. I had finally learned how to subdue my hair in the process of getting the style that I wanted as short hair and realized I could use the same tricks for long hair. I now have very curly, wiry, thick, coarse, and long hair—the hair that I always wanted—which even my mother finally appreciates (or could it be me?).
Thanks for insight into the hair/mother connection!
“Looking Back” (July/August) reported that Elizabeth Palmer Peabody opened the first kindergarten in the United States in 1860. In fact, she opened the first English-language kindergarten in the U.S.; Margaretha Schurz brought kindergarten to German-speaking Ameri-cans in Wisconsin in 1856.An attribution was omitted from the essay “A Mother's Bond” by Barbara Hamilton-Holway (May/ June). A phrase comparing women to monsters and monsters to women should have been attributed to the poet Adrienne Rich.
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