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Unitarian Universalists celebrate gay marriage victories

Iowa City congregation hosts marriage ceremony for 17 same-sex couples; President Sinkford hails new Maine law.
By Donald E. Skinner
5.11.09

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The same-sex marriage bandwagon rolled on last week as hundreds of couples took out marriage licenses in Iowa and as the legislatures of Maine and New Hampshire granted marriage rights to same-sex couples. Unitarian Universalists cheered the developments.

“State by state, love and fairness are prevailing over fear and ignorance,” said the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in a statement May 6.

Maine became the fifth state to recognize gay marriage when Gov. John Baldacci signed legislation on May 6. Same-sex marriage is also legal in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch is expected to decide by Monday, May 11 whether to sign the bill passed by the legislature.

Iowa’s Supreme Court authorized same-sex marriage April 3, allowing weddings to begin in May. And that’s how the Rev. Benjamin Maucere and the Rev. Holly Horn came to hold a single wedding ceremony for 34 people on Friday, May 1, at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City.

The 17 couples arrived on a chartered bus from Missouri. Maucere, interim minister of the Iowa City congregation, and Horn, his wife, had only a few days notice to put together a meaningful ceremony. “We knew we didn’t want to go the Rev. [Sun Myung] Moon route,” said Horn, who served as wedding planner. “We wanted each couple to have their own special moment. And we also knew that this wedding was going to be both a political action and a sacrament. What we didn’t want it to be was a circus.”

Members of the congregation joined the couples and some family and friends in the church’s sanctuary. In the back were a phalanx of news reporters and television cameras. Up front were Maucere; Horn; the Rev. Krista Taves, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Ellisville, Mo.; and several leaders of other faiths, including a rabbi, who had come on the bus. There were a couple of documentary filmmakers in the room as well.

Each couple stepped forward for their own vows, exchange of rings, and photographs. The various ministers each had charge of a smaller group of the couples. Members of the congregation hosted a reception afterward.

“The congregation just jumped on this,” said Maucere. “I asked for ushers and some refreshments. They did that and more, including Marriage Equality banners, wedding cake, and champagne. And they made up a welcoming committee when the couples arrived. I don’t think the folks on the bus expected the welcome they got.”

Horn added, “Many didn’t have family with them. But they were greeted by a crowd of warm, supportive, loving people who also knew where to find a bathroom, and that was greatly welcome.”

Although they obtained marriage licenses in Iowa, the Missouri couples understood that their marriages won’t be valid back home. As Ed Reggi, who organized the bus trip with his partner Scott Emanuel, told the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis newsweekly, “It’s a statement to Jeff City and Missourians that we are everyday people in committed relationships and we’re really just as normal as everyone else.”

Another person on the bus, Missouri State Senator Jolie Justus, married her partner, Shonda Garrison. She told the Kansas City Star, “We felt . . . that it was important that we be able to make that commitment to each other. My hope is that someday marriage will be recognized by Missouri and federally.”

In an essay Horn wrote about Friday’s events, she said, “It was very interesting driving through Iowa City Friday morning. I thought maybe I was hallucinating, but it seemed like half the town was preparing for a wedding—people unloading cases of drinks from the trunks of cars, dressed up people carrying musical instruments, this sort of thing. Turns out there were at least a dozen same-sex weddings, in addition to our 17, taking place in Iowa City that day.”

Maucere said the only other moments in his professional life that have been so emotionally profound have involved tragedies: a candlelight vigil following the killing of an abortion clinic doctor and his bodyguard in Florida, and a multi-congregation gathering following the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. “This time we came together in joy.”

The Des Moines Register reported that more than 450 same-sex couples sought marriage licenses in the first week they were available.

At the UU Fellowship of Ames, Iowa, the Rev. Brian Eslinger said he’s arranging weddings for several couples, including one from Texas. “I’ve gained a measure of religious freedom that I didn’t have before,” he said. “I am finally able to offer this ritual to couples who I’ve always had to do something different for. I see it as a wonderful testimony to how our system can expand justice.”

Unitarian Universalists were celebrating last week in Maine as well, but the hoopla was tempered with the knowledge that opponents will likely try to place a referendum on the ballot this November to overturn what the legislature had approved.

“We’re pretty thrilled,” said the Rev. Mykel Johnson, minister of the Allen Avenue UU Church in Portland, Maine. “But we also know this may go to referendum. So we’re going to celebrate for a few days and then we’ll be diving into a campaign to make sure we don’t lose our rights in November.”

Johnson has been a co-convener of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine. “It’s been very powerful to be part of that movement, to help people understand there are religious voices that support this issue, that it’s not just gays versus religious people,” Johnson said. “And we know that it took 20 years to get basic civil rights for gay people here. So we’re preparing for a long campaign.”


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