Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Clergy oppose same-sex marriage ban, saying it has “the smell and feel of Salem”

Once again, we need to call your attention to the fact that the headline is right. Clergy are working against the GOP’s attempt to write a ban on same-sex marriage into the U.S. Constitution. The outrage of the new group -- called Clergy for Fairness -- mirrors the fury we saw in Kansas from mainstream ministers when a similar proposal was passed here.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention: This is relevant today because a Senate vote on the ban is expected during the week of June 5.

Although the New York Times covered the new organization’s press conference, the conservative Cybercast News Service had the most complete coverage. They report:

Rev. Paul Simmons, director of the Center for Ethics at the University of Louisville, called the amendment "misguided, prejudicial and unwarranted legislation."

Simmons added that the measure reflects "the thunder of the religious right," which he argued "represents neither the majority of religious voices nor of the American people." He also labeled the FMA "an effort to deprive a certain group of people in the United States, who are citizens, rights guaranteed" in the U.S. Constitution.

"The FMA (Federal Marriage Amendment) has the smell and feel of Salem" -- the Massachusetts town where witchcraft trials held in the late 1600s led to the deaths of 24 people -- "and the Puritan experiment in America," he stated, which "never seems to die."

Although the amendment isn’t expected to have enough support in the Senate to pass, the emergence Clergy for Fairness is significant. For too long moderate and progressive clergy have either been silent in the face of the onslaught of the radical religious right, or they have been ignored by the news media.

Journalists still seem tend to define religious leaders as being solely of an evangelical or ultra-conservative Catholic bent. The smattering of coverage of yesterday’s news conference, though, is a sign that some of that is changing.

Out here in the reddest of red states, last year’s campaign to ban same-sex marriage became a rallying cry for mainstream clergy who had simply had enough. The Kansas campaign led to the formation of two groups that have already begun to be active.

There are signs that the moderate and progressive religious community is finally finding its voice. Last week more than 1,000 people met in Washington, D.C., in a conference held by the new Network of Spiritual Progressives. Beliefnet.com reports:

"We're talking about first, baby steps here," said Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and editor of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun.

Let us hope that the formation of Clergy for Fairness and the “baby steps” of the Network of Spiritual Progressives are signaling the arrival of a new force in American politics. At the very least, it is time that the news media and politicians realized that people of faith are represented by more than one, narrow brand of Christianity.

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