Concerned about Effect on Families, Clergy Urge Virginians to Vote No
RICHMOND Two hundred and eighty clergy from across Virginia released a signed statement today announcing their opposition to Virginia’s Ballot Question #1 today 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.
In their Statement, the clergy stated 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.”
The clergy indicated that not all of them may agree on whether marriage rights should be granted to two persons of the same sex. However, all did agree that Ballot Question #1 undermined commonly held principles to “affirm the dignity of all persons and value the welfare of all loving and committed families regardless of their legal status.”
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.
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), Metroplitan 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 include 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, Glade Church (United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists), Blacksburg
- Rev. Dr. David Ensign, Clarendon Presbyterian Church, Arlington
Ballot Question #1 asks whether the following proposed amendment should be included in the Bill of Rights of the Virginia Constitution:
That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.
This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.
Statement By Clergy In Opposition To Ballot Question #1, November 2006
God has told you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
– Micah 6:8
As Clergy from across Virginia, we oppose Ballot Question #1 and encourage people of faith in this Commonwealth to vote no on this amendment on November 7.
We come from many different traditions, faiths and denominations, yet we all agree that Ballot Question #1 violates the call to justice and fairness that is a moral imperative shared by our faith traditions. Ballot Question #1, though called “the marriage amendment” by some, will not protect any marriages. It will cause undue hardship and harm to the families of unmarried couples in Virginia.
As religious leaders, we affirm the dignity of all persons and value the welfare of all loving and committed families regardless of their legal status. This amendment undermines those principles. Even those of us who believe that the state should reserve legally sanctioned marriage for unions between a man and a woman agree that this amendment goes too far.
Ballot Question #1 would create two categories of families: one headed by married couples enjoying expansive rights and legal protections and one headed by unmarried individuals banned from any legal recognition. For the latter, the discrimination is severe. Family courts may not be able to protect victims abused by unmarried partners under domestic violence laws. Child custody and visitation agreements between unmarried people may not be enforceable. Medical directives naming a loving partner to make critical healthcare decisions may not be recognized. State agencies, universities, and hospitals may not be able to grant an employee bereavement leave after a life partner dies or offer health benefits to an employee’s domestic partner or the partner’s children. Family courts may not be able to act in the best interest of a child if her parents are not married. Families in crisis will face the threat of years of legal quagmire while judges sort out their legal rights.
As Clergy, we pray with, counsel, and support families in times of crisis. We know the pain that such crises inflict, and we know that such pain does not discriminate based on whether or not the state has granted a marriage license. Married or not, the anguish of losing a lifelong partner is the same. Married or not, children and loved ones get sick and need medical care. Married or not, the crushing physical and emotional blows from an abusive partner require protection.
Our faith traditions teach us that God desires justice, kindness, and mercy. There is no place within our faith communities or within our Commonwealth for an amendment that punishes unmarried couples and their children. Ballot Question #1 will not protect marriage, but it will harm families. As religious leaders, we urge Virginians to vote no on Ballot Question #1. It is the moral choice.