Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Connecticut Churches Nicely Illustrate Romans 1

Romans 1:26-32:

For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

Civil Unions & Churches Gay Couples Look Forward To Religious Rites, But Many Congregations Resist New State Law
September 28, 2005

By FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR, Courant Staff Writer

For the Rev. Bonnie Bardot, the day civil unions become law will hold special meaning - as a pastor who has long supported such rights for gay couples, and as a lesbian who has been with her partner, Jan Gregory, for 17 years."We have not set the date, but what we have always known is that whenever anything became legal, we would do it," said Bardot, who leads South Congregational/First Baptist Church in New Britain.

When civil unions become law in the state on Saturday, gay couples will achieve new status that brings them some of the same rights as heterosexual couples.But churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are under no obligation to recognize or condone such rights. The Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish synagogues and evangelical Christian churches, for example, continue to oppose the law that allows civil unions and will not conduct ceremonies that recognize gay couples.

Bishop Andrew Smith, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, recently issued a letter to all Episcopal clergy in the state reiterating that, under U.S. Episcopal Church policy, they are forbidden to perform civil unions."The new law allows any person who is licensed to perform a marriage also to officiate at a civil union. The law specifically names clergy," said Smith's letter. "Priests and bishops in this diocese are not authorized to officiate at civil unions or at blessings of same-sex unions."

Clergy in some other denominations have long supported not only civil unions but also the right of gay couples to marry. Bardot's church, a federation between the United Church of Church and American Baptist Churches, is open and affirming, which means that gay members have the same recognition within the church as straight members.For a church to be open and affirming "lets people know that it is safe to come here, that the Bible will not be used as a weapon against them," said Bardot, who is working with two gay and lesbian couples who are planning to have civil union ceremonies at the church.

Both couples that Bardot is counseling have been together a number of years, making them typical of those now stepping forward to receive legal and religious recognition of their relationship. Even before the new law, commitment ceremonies for homosexual couples had been performed at South Congregational/First Baptist for a number of years.

The United Church of Christ has compiled a listing of its open and affirming member churches that will conduct blessings of same-sex unions. The list is available at The UCC plans to publish the list in a full-page ad in The Courant and other local newspapers Saturday.

Charles "Buck" Rogers and Jack Kelly plan to join in a civil union and to have it celebrated with a ceremony in the sanctuary at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford on Nov. 12.

Rogers said that legal recognition of their 11-year relationship "gives us rights we would not otherwise have and adds to our sense of legitimacy.""

It also enabled us to feel comfortable enough to go to our minister and say, `We not only want to do this the legal way, we want to do this the right way.'"About 125 people are expected to attend the ceremony, which will be conducted by the Rev. Gary Miller, senior minister at AHCC. Rogers said Miller "did not hesitate" for a moment when the two Hartford men asked him to officiate."

"Religion is important to me in my journey," Rogers said, "and it's important for us to be able to acknowledge our relationship before God and the church as well as before families and friends."

Jewish same-sex couples will be able to turn to some Reform synagogues for a blessing of their civil unions. Rabbi Howard Herman of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation in Simsbury said his synagogue "does affirm same-sex relationships, and I would perform one if I was asked."

"Even before it became law, we were willing to spiritually recognize these unions," he said, "even if the law did not."

A committee at the synagogue is working to establish a policy on the blessing of same-sex unions, with the stipulation that both partners must be Jewish, Herman said.

The Rev. Terry Davis, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, has been an active supporter of civil unions and religious blessings for gay couples, and he testified before the legislature in support of gay marriage. First Presbyterian has offered blessings of same-gender unions since 1992.

Though controversial at the time, the Presbyterian Church USA later adopted a policy that allows pastors to conduct commitment ceremonies but not marriage, which is defined by the church as a union between a man and a woman.But the Presbyterian Church currently has no specific policy regarding civil unions, Davis said."We have a committee working on a policy [at First Presbyterian], and I am certain the outcome will allow the pastor to bless civil unions," Davis said. To receive a blessing of commitment at First Presbyterian, one of the partners must be a member of the church.

Davis is among more than 100 members of Connecticut clergy who signed the Clergy Declaration of Marriage Equality, which was released this past weekend. The declaration calls for the right of marriage, not just civil unions, to be granted to gay couples.

"Good marriages benefit the community and express the religious values of long-term commitment and faithfulness. Civil unions cannot fully embody these values; only marriage can," the statement reads in part. "There is no difference between a man and a woman, two men or two women. As our traditions affirm, where there is love, God is in our midst."

The Unitarian-Universalist Society has recognized same-gender couples for years, and many of its churches routinely conduct same-gender ceremonies."

The civil union law doesn't affect our practice," said the Rev. Joshua Pawelek, pastor of Unitarian-Universalist Society East in Manchester. "We just marry gay couples, and that practice is going to continue. ... Civil union is still second-class citizenship."

Pawelek, who is also a signer of the clergy marriage declaration, takes the further step of refusing to sign marriage licenses at all, in the belief that clergy should remain separate from authorizations of the state.

Bardot also sees civil unions as only a stop, not a destination, on the quest for equal relationship rights for gays and lesbians."

I think we need to be really clear: Civil unions are a big step, but it is not the same as marriage," she said. "We are still separate but equal, which is not the same. Separate has never been equal."

Boy, oh, boy, this writer gets the "bias in reporting" award.


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