Seattle Times, March 24, 2004

Clerics demonstrate in support of same-sex marriage

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

They stood shoulder to shoulder, men and women, gay and straight, their robes blending to represent the colors of the rainbow.

Dozens of religious leaders from various faiths and denominations gathered yesterday in downtown Seattle in a show of support for gay marriage.

At Plymouth Congregational Church they sang "We Shall Overcome" and later marched, placards bobbing through the streets, to the King County Administration Building. There they presented a statement of support for same-sex marriage that was signed by 158 religious leaders from across the state.

"Who would have guessed, even six months ago, that a chain of events would have occurred in our nation, spurred by a Supreme Court ruling, by state legislatures and mayors, and by gay couples that would bring us to this ... opportune time to address equal rights for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation?" said the Rev. Stephen Jones, coordinating pastor of Seattle First Baptist Church on First Hill.

"We come together across the widest variety of religious expressions and backgrounds."

The actions of yesterday's religious leaders -- Christian, Jewish, Buddhist -- were in contrast to a demonstration more than a week ago by another group of clergy, who gathered downtown to denounce gay marriage.

Marriage, those religious leaders said, is between a man and a woman and should not be redefined.

Few other social issues have divided this nation's religious community as has the issue of same-sex marriage.

Jones, a heterosexual man, married with children, said of the dichotomy, "We've come to the conclusion that we're now in a new place. We can't expect everyone to arrive in the Promised Land at the same time."

While one group in yesterday's demonstration presented its signed statement to Dean Logan, King County director of Records, Elections and Licensing, another group was presenting the statement to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, along with a message of thanks for his support on the issue.

Earlier this month, Nickels issued an executive order saying the city will recognize gay marriages -- a move for which he later was sued.

At the same time, six gay and lesbian couples sued King County Executive Ron Sims, at Sims' urging, after they were denied marriage licenses.

Clerical leaders yesterday said they also will deliver statements supporting same-sex marriage to Gov. Gary Locke and legislative leaders.

Pete-e Petersen and her partner of 27 years, Jane Abbott Lighty, were energized by the support of such a diverse group of religious leaders. "This is an historic moment," Petersen said as the two women joined marchers to the county building.

The women have resisted going elsewhere to marry, holding out -- as Lighty put it -- for being able to marry someday in Seattle.

"People are realizing that gays have been oppressed and denied their rights for so long," Lighty said. "We're finally righting longtime injustices. You cannot deny love."

Clerics yesterday urged lawmakers to repeal the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act and to denounce a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages.

"We stand today to say we oppose any effort to change the beloved Constitution to make discrimination the law of the land," said the Very Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle.

The Rev. Shayné Flowers, pastor of spiritual development at All Pilgrims Christian Church, said that for many religious leaders, the issue of gay marriage is a very personal, not an abstract political concept.

"Whom we choose to love and how that love is bonded for life should not be the subject of political debate," she said. "We must speak out against one of the greatest potential injustices of this country and that is the legalization of hatred."

David Strong, a pastor at Community Church of Joy in Seattle, said those who oppose gay unions echo ghostly reminders of a past era.

As a black man, he said, he remembers the searing images from the civil-rights movement, "bigots on TV talking about the destruction of the social fabric, the destruction of society, destruction of the country as we know it."

"Historically, people have used the Bible as a weapon of oppression," he said. "I read the Bible and I see my freedom."