Media Release from People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, Jews for Justice, and the Commonwealth Coalition
November 2, 2006
RICHMOND – More than 280 clergy from across Virginia released a signed statement today announcing their opposition to Virginia’s Ballot Question #1 in a press conference at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. The clergy urged Virginia’s voters to vote “No” on Ballot Question #1.
Ballot Question #1 will appear on the Virginia ballot on November 7. The proposal would amend the Virginia Bill of Rights to bar state agencies and courts from recognizing relationships or enforcing contracts between unmarried persons that would provide benefits associated with marriage. It also would add to the Bill of Rights Virginia’s existing law limiting marriage rights to one man and one woman.
The Rev. Dr. Davis Yeuell, President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias, reading from the Clergy Statement, said that Ballot Question #1 “violates the call to justice and fairness that is a moral imperative shared by our faith traditions.” The clergy emphasized that as clergy they believed that the proposed amendment “will not protect any marriages. It will cause undue hardship and harm to the families of unmarried couples in Virginia.”
“As religious leader,” Yeuell said, “we affirm the dignity of all persons and value the welfare of all loving and committed families regardless of their legal status. … There is no place in our faith communities or within our Commonwealth for an amendment that punishes — punishes — unmarried couples and their children.”
The Rev. Kelly Sisson, pastor of Glade Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists) in Blacksburg said, “The Religious Loud have trumpeted a hollow message of fear and threats that would have us believe our marriages and our faith are in jeopardy. … A marriage that is so fragile it needs this Marshall/Newman Amendment to offer that marriage security needs counseling, not a change in a 220-year-old document.”
“Ballot Question #1 is bad law supported by bad theology,” stated The Rev. Dr. David Ensign, pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington. “To support the amendment in the name of a narrow and restricted understanding of marriage drawn from an impoverished reading of scripture is bad theology,” he continued.
“Why are we being asked by our government to focus on this issue when there are so many other issues that require our attention?” asked The Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. “We have so many issues other than this one that truly affect marriage.”
In the Clergy Statement and in their individual remarks, the clergy also noted their pastoral concern about Ballot Question #1’s effects on families in times of crisis who may be excluded from certain legal protections because they are not headed by a married couple. They expressed concern that courts may be unable to adequately protect unmarried victims of domestic violence or to enforce child custody and visitation agreements among unmarried couples. They also cited concern about challenges to advanced medical directives and the likelihood of extended legal battles over rights at times of acute need.
“I think of a couple who have lived in a monogamous committed relationship for more than three decades but as one partner faces his last hours in a hospital room, the other is held outside denied access while a court decides if the law applies to him.” Rev. Kelly Sisson said.
The clergy who signed the Statement represent diverse traditions and every corner of the state. Among the signers were clergy from Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian, Jewish, Lutheran, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Metropolitan Community Church, Mennonite, and Brethren traditions.
The press conference was sponsored by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and Jews for Justice. People of Faith for Equality in Virginia was formed in 2005 to fight discrimination and work for equality in local faith communities and across Virginia, particularly with regard to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Jews for Justice has been working to educate the faith community and Virginians generally about efforts such as Ballot Question #1 to undermine legal protections for vulnerable families and individuals in Virginia. Both organizations are members of the Commonwealth Coalition.
Speakers at the press conference included the following clergy:
- Rev. Dr. Davis Yeuell, President, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia; former Executive of the former Presbyterian Synod of the Virginias
- Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, Rector, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Richmond
- Rev. Kelly Sisson, Pastor, Glade Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists), Blacksburg
- Rev. Dr. David Ensign, Pastor Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Arlington