Soulforce to Protest "Unholy Crusade" by the Catholic Church Against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People

Protests and Vigils to Take Place at Catholic Bishops’ Conference for the Fourth Year in a Row in Washington, DC, November 9-13, 2003

***************************************************
Soulforce Press Release: October 22, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-278-0592 email:Laura@soulforce.org
****************************************************

(Washington, DC) – Soulforce leaders today publicly announced plans to protest and vigil November 9-13, 2003 outside of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for the fourth year in a row. The demonstrations will again take place at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Avenue NW, in Washington D.C, beginning Sunday, November 9 from 3 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Vigils will continue Monday – Thursday, starting at 7 a.m. each day.

The purpose of the demonstrations is to protest the escalation of Catholic anti-gay policies and teachings, the expulsion of gay Catholics from the Church, and the Church’s support of an anti-gay “marriage” amendment to the US Constitution that would deny same-gender couples and families the same protections afforded to families headed by mixed-gender couples.

“The Catholic Church is conducting an unholy Crusade against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their families, both inside and outside the church,” said life-long Catholic Kara Speltz, chair of the Soulforce Catholic Denomination Team. “Not only is the church imposing its superstitious and unscientific attitudes against GLBT people in an attempt to deny us our civil rights, but they are actually kicking us out of the church for exercising our rights.”

The Catholic Church has been the subject of much criticism and media attention recently involving two gay men who were legally married in Canada, then kicked out of the Catholic church after serving for decades in the church choir.

Historically, the Catholic Church has not tried to impose it’s dogma against divorce and remarriage on the rest of America in an attempt to deny civil marriage rights to divorcees and their families. However, the anti-gay “marriage” amendment, which is supported by the Catholic Church, seeks to codify discrimination against same-gender couples and their families by imposing one narrow “religious” definition of marriage on all Americans.

Soulforce leaders have written a letter to Bishop Gregory, President of the USCCB, asking him not to support the anti-gay “marriage” amendment. Individuals are also being asked to write to their local bishops with the same request.

Last year, three Soulforce life-long Catholics were arrested when they refused a police order to leave the Hyatt lobby while seeking to be served communion, which had been denied to them the night before during a public mass at the National Shrine. They spent over 30 hours in jail after their arrest and were found guilty of trespassing, but a judge refused to impose sentencing. Two of the three arrested, Mike Perez of Seattle and Kara Speltz of Oakland, will be returning to protest again this year.

MEDIA: Banners and protestors provide excellent visuals. Call for exact times. Interviews available. For more information, letters to bishops, and civil marriage policy statement, see www.soulforce.org.

For more information, see www.soulforce.org. For media interviews, call 717-278-0592.

——————
Laura Montgomery Rutt
Director of Communications
Soulforce, Inc
Laura@soulforce.org
www.soulforce.org

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce employs the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

Report on Soulforce Lynchburg Weekend, October 9-12, 2003

October 16, 2003

Lynchburg, Virginia, the home of conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, is the hub of anti-gay misinformation and misguided teachings about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and families.

On October 11, National Coming Out Day, Lynchburg was transformed into the home of the 2nd annual Soulforce Out and About Pride event, and the home of the first Soulforce sponsored "Equal Civil Marriage Rights" Forum.

On Sunday, October 12, across the street from Thomas Road Baptist Church, Soulforce volunteers vigiled while Rev. Jimmy Creech blessed couples and families who came to let the world see that "it is love that makes a family."

Jerry Falwell has said that he is dedicating his "talents, time, and energies over the next few years" to the passage of an anti-gay "marriage" amendment to the US Constitution that will "protect the traditional family." To that end, he started the "one man one woman" campaign. This is a prime example of how spiritual violence spreads directly from the churches to our government.

In reality, these anti-gay efforts are not really about "preserving marriage," but about denying equal protections to families that are not headed by one man and one women. It is not about protecting families, but about discriminating against our families.

Therefore, Soulforce is going to be dedicating part of our talents, time, and energies over the next few years to help train and educate people about the rights of civil marriage and the spiritual violence and misinformation surrounding the religious right’s efforts to discriminate against our families.

THE MARRIAGE FORUM: Saturday, October 11, National Coming Out Day at First Christian Church in Lynchburg.

The marriage forum started National Coming Out Day with a wealth of information and a new perspective on civil rights advocacy and insuring that our families are protected and treated equally.

Speakers on the panel were John Aravosis (Dontamend.com), Chris Purdom (Interfaith Working Group), Peter Montgomery (PFAW), and Chalee Shorton (GLAAD). Also speaking were Imam Daayiee Abdulla (Al-Fathia) and Rev. Jimmy Creech.

As a result, Soulforce is making packets of information, with a Power point presentation and marriage brochure (thanks to Chris Purdom) for our local group leaders to organize forums and disseminate information in their area. Additionally, leaders at First Church are creating a Sunday School curriculum for mainstream denominations on supporting equal civil marriage rights, and defeating the anti-gay "marriage" amendment.

Soulforce is going to be devoting some time and energy to this issue – as we assume many of the denominations are going to try to pass resolutions supporting the anti-gay marriage amendment.

Additionally, we realize that it is our allies that need to be educated about faith based support for the rights of civil marriage for GLBT people, and we need them to be advocates as well, and provide them with the information and resources they need.

An article on the forum was in the Lynchburg News and Advance – www.soulforce.org/lynchburg1003/newsadvance101203forum.htm

Resources and talking points will be available in the near future.

THE PRIDE FEST: "Coming Out and About in Lynchburg"

The pride fest was a smashing success, with hundreds of people from Lynchburg and across Virginia and the entire United States attending and supporting the event. A dozen or so detractors try to dampen the day, but with the sun shining unexpectedly nothing could have diminished the spirit of love and camaraderie that radiated through the crowds and the clouds.

Pictures are worth 1000 words, so see for yourself at www.soulforce.org/article/31

There were 30 sponsoring organization who signed on in support of our efforts to make Lynchburg gay friendly, and locals expressed appreciation for our 2nd pride event.

Thank you to the local group committee, the set up crew, and Bill Carpenter for taking charge of it.

Special thanks to our sponsors and to Lambda Rising Bookstore for providing us with Pride paraphernalia and merchandise!

Special thanks to our entertainers, and especially Marcus Young for allowing us to use his sound system!

Read the article from the Lynchburg News and Advance at www.soulforce.org/lynchburg1003/newsadvance101203pridefest.htm

THE SUNDAY VIGILS AND BLESSINGS:

The spirit of love and truth shone brightly on Sunday morning on Thomas Road, as 100+ supporters carried 18×24 inch photos of couples and families who are discriminated against because of who they are and the structure of their families.

As some supporters carried family pictures of those who were unable to join us, others received blessings for their relationships and families, under an arch on a public sidewalk. The blessings were conducted by Jimmy Creech, co-chair of the Board of Soulforce, and Rev. Pam Defusco, local group leader for Soulforce Northern Kentucky.

Our banner read: Focus on our Families too – Because LOVE makes a family.

Pictures are available at www.soulforce.org/article/31

An article is available at http://www.soulforce.org/lynchburg1003/newsadvance101303blessing.htm

THE TRAININGS

Three trainings took place over the course of the weekend.

Thursday October 9 – Friday October 10 two workshops were offered on grassroots organizing and negotiation/dialogue skills. Attendees at both trainings raved about how valuable the information was!

Friday night, Soulforce supporters were treated to music by the Soulforce Ad-hoc choir, a non-violence training by Rev. Mel White, and plenty of camaraderie.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Soulforce used this weekend as an opportunity to educate our community about civil marriage equality. We trained Soulforce supporters in grassroots organizing to expand the local group network, and in dialogue and negotiation to help change hearts and minds.

We celebrated gay pride in the park to help empower GLBT people in Lynchburg, and provide a safe space for an afternoon for people to be "out" and comfortable with who they are, further encouraging them to come out and be out.

We provided a visible presence in front of Thomas Road Baptist Church representing the thousands of GLBT families to whom Jerry Falwell wants to deny equal protections.

We blessed on another with our presence and our gifts.

Stories from the weekend include heartwarming tales of a young man from Thomas Road Baptist Church who tearfully embraced one of our vigilers, and high school students who were thrilled to be able to buy pride merchandise in Lynchburg .

This event took place because of the hard work of dozens of people. It would be impossible to name them all, for fear of forgetting someone in the process.

THANK YOU to everyone who made this weekend a success!

Laura Montgomery Rutt
Special Events Organizer
Director of Communications
www.soulforce.org

Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Gay Couples Receive Blessings"

By Shannon Brennan
Lynchburg News and Advance
Monday, October 13, 2003

Under a brick arch across the street from Thomas Road Baptist Church, more than 30 couples and families received religious blessings Sunday morning.

While a handful of protesters stood across the street, gay and lesbian couples and their families were told God loves them despite the prejudice, resistance and denial they have faced.

For some, like Erin and Jennifer Adriel of Michigan, it was another affirmation of their love. The women have been together for 20 years, and were legally married in Canada in August.

"It makes a statement that we are families, too," Erin Adriel said of the blessing.

For others, like a gay couple from New York who declined to give their names because of local connections, it was the first time their union had elicited such loving words.

"Nobody has spoken those words to us," said one man, who fought back tears both during and after the ceremony. "The only words I hear are hate – from parents, siblings."

The men gave Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist minister defrocked for holding same-sex unions, a big hug.

"He gave us a word of blessing on a union we know in our hearts God has blessed," the man said of his partnership of six years.

Pam DeFusco, a licensed minister in the United Church of Christ in Union, Ky., performed the brief ceremony. In her church, same-sex unions are allowed, and she officiated over her first one a week ago.

"I think it’s hard for couples to come to the church in general because they have been hurt and don’t trust us," DeFusco said.

Several of the 150 members of Soulforce who lined the street opposite Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday morning said the same thing. The group has been coming to the city for four years to try to change hearts and minds at Thomas Road about their anti-gay rhetoric.

The Rev. Mel White, who founded Soulforce, lives in Lynchburg.

One woman walking down the street, however, said, "Tell them to go away. What’s the point? We’re not going to listen to them."

For Jake Reitan of Eden Prairie, Minn., the point is there are members of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s church who will hear the message, who are themselves struggling with their sexual orientation.

"We’re here today to help send out the message that homosexuality is one of God’s great creations," he said.

A student at Northwestern University in Chicago, Reitan was joined by his parents, Randi and Phil Reitan, who received a blessing as a family.

"We’re here because Jake is gay and it’s so important to us to see the churches change … and welcome all God’s children," his mother said. "We’ve seen the hurt and we’ve seen the pain, and we want to see it end."

Jake Reitan passed out letters to members of Falwell’s church that said, in part, "We are here to proclaim that our families are legitimate, that our relationships are true and loving, and that we know we are welcomed into the family of God without reservation."

But David and Jeanette Lytle also passed out literature Sunday morning, with the conviction that God hates homosexuals.

"We’re trying to save the souls of these people," said David Lytle, a Lynchburg man known for his anti-abortion activism. "We’re here to try to open their eyes to the truth."

Andrew Sansone of Amherst was by their side with a Ten Commandments sign. When asked which of the Ten Commandments homosexuality breaks, Sansone said all of them, to some extent.

"They’ve kind of made an idol into their sexual behavior," he said. "… We’re hoping to change hearts. I’ll be here every year."

There were also local supporters of Soulforce at the vigil. Molly McClenon was one of them. She said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should have the same civil rights as everyone else.

"I am here witnessing in front of a group of people who want to limit those civil rights," she said.

Douglas Hughes of Minneapolis stood beside her. Hughes said he is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of John Adams, whose wife convinced him that doing justice is a requirement of Christianity.

"I’m outraged that anyone who would call themselves a Christian, would want other Christians in the chains that Christ came to set us free from," he said.

And while it’s hard to do, Hughes said he came to stand in front of Falwell’s church for one reason.

"You must first identify your enemies before you can truly love them," he said.

Contact Shannon Brennan at sbrennan@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5561.

Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Marriage, Civil Unions Different, Advocates Say"

First Christian forum addresses the topic
By Shannon Brennan
Lynchburg News and Advance
Sunday, October 12, 2003

Jimmy Creech and his wife got married in a small claims courtroom in Wake County, N.C. Several days later, they had a United Methodist celebration in their backyard.

"I’ve always believed that church and state should be separate," Creech told a group of about 150 Soulforce supporters at First Christian Church Saturday morning.

The former United Methodist minister introduced the topic of marriage at a forum on civil unions, aimed at teaching people how to talk about what marriage is and isn’t. Creech, who was kicked out of his church for performing same-sex celebrations, doesn’t think marriage has anything to do with gender – or with religion.

"You don’t have to be religious to marry," he said. "Marriage is a spiritual bond."

As a pastor for 29 years, Creech said he always separated the civil contract bestowed by the government from the religious ritual. The church, he said, has assumed an inappropriate role of making judgments about who should be together.

"It’s a human right," he said. "Who you love and who you bond with is your choice."

Soulforce, a group dedicated to reducing spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, is also working to stop a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Members of Soulforce from around the country are in Lynchburg this weekend to talk about marriage, participate in a Gay Pride event, and this morning, to hold a vigil outside Thomas Road Baptist Church. The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said he would make passing the constitutional amendment on marriage his No. 1 priority.

Laura Montgomery Rutt, who introduced the four-member panel on civil marriage equality, said the concern about the proposed constitutional amendment is real.

"The Constitution has never before been used to codify discrimination," she said.

Panelist John Aravosis went further.

"This is going to have to end up being our black civil rights movement," he said.

Aravosis, who is best known for his successful campaign to stop Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s television show, has also appeared on The O’Reilly Factor and Hardball with Chris Matthews.

"This isn’t just an affront … there are some real legal implications here," Aravosis said.

Were a marriage amendment to pass, he said, people who have legal documents establishing a domestic partner – gay or straight – could lose their rights, including the right to visit their partner in a hospital and employee benefits.

Aravosis said the whole issue started with the Supreme Court decision this summer to overturn Texas sodomy laws. Instead of focusing on the fairness of that decision, the gay community allowed the religious right turned it into a rallying point for a marriage amendment.

Things will only get worse, he predicted, should the Massachusetts Supreme Court rule that people of the same gender can marry. That ruling is expected at any time.

"If Massachusetts says we can get married, it’s going to be a burning issue," he said.

Chris Purdom, a heterosexual Presbyterian elder and co-coordinator of the Interfaith Working Group in Philadelphia, agreed that such an amendment would be devastating.

"Do you really want a government inspector coming to your house to see if your marriage is OK?" he asked.

Peter Montgomery, vice president for communications at People For the American Way, said the religious right will try to use marriage as a wedge during the upcoming presidential election to turn out voters to elect politicians sympathetic to their cause.

President George W. Bush is talking out of both sides of his mouth by proclaiming next week "Marriage Protection Week," and also by saying that all people should be respected and treated fairly, he said.

Montgomery said, however, that he thinks most Americans are supportive of gay rights. The latest poll only showed 20 percent of Americans supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage.

Aravosis warned that could change quickly, saying, "Everyone loves us when there’s no news."

In a question-and-answer session, Soulforce founder the Rev. Mel White said he has become discouraged after trying for four years to combat anti-gay rhetoric and discrimination.

"There are 200 people here; why not 2,000?" he said.

Montgomery said it’s not as easy to mobilize the gay community as it was for Martin Luther King Jr. to mobilize the black community.

"The visibility of the damage isn’t as severe," he said, noting that stories about children in gay families and discrimination against gays are not told openly.

Purdom said too many people will not come out of the closet for fear of violence and discrimination.

Chalee Snorton, who works with GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, encouraged more people to talk to the media to get their stories out and explain civil marriage equality.

Another guest at the forum, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, said the issue of marriage is being rushed and many people are not ready for it. As a gay Muslim cleric, however, he tries to help by clarifying the Koran.

"The message in the Koran is that every human being has a right to a mate who is their comfort and cloak," he said.

碁 Contact Shannon Brennan at sbrennan@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5561.

Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Gay Activists, Their Foes Take up Usual Positions"

Both sides push viewpoints at rally in Lynchburg park
By Darrell Laurant
Lynchburg News and Advance
Sunday, October 12, 2003

The Rev. Mel White climbed the stone steps of the bandstand at Riverside Park Saturday afternoon and looked up the hill to where the Rev. Richard Knodel was standing with his bullhorn.

"Hi, Mr. Knodel," White said.

"Hi, Mel," Knodel replied. "It’s unlovely to see you again."

This was the second annual gay rights rally Out and About in Lynchburg, sponsored by White’s national organization Soulforce, and there was a definite feel of deja vu in the warm fall air – the same rainbow balloon arch as last year, the same booths, the same protestors trying to outshout the Soulforce speakers.

"I know just about everybody here," said Lynchburg Police Chief Chuck Bennett.

There was, however, a new issue – the question of gay marriage, the subject of a forum held earlier in the day at First Christian Church (referred to in one protestor’s sign as "First Sodomite Church," to the chagrin of interim pastor Don Bohlke).

The Rev. Jerry Falwell is pushing a constitutional amendment limiting marriage only to heterosexual couples, a position shared by President Bush, and that issue was dramatized Saturday by an old red truck with California plates that spent the afternoon making circuit after circuit of the park’s looping access road.

"Stop Judicial Tyranny!" proclaimed a sign on the truck.

Except for electronic conflict, with the event organizers bringing in larger speakers midway through to compete with the bullhorns, the day passed with no incidents – thanks in large part to a sizable contingent of Lynchburg police that took pains to keep the groups separated. But Soulforce member Kris Elkins of Fredericksburg said he saw dangerous times ahead.

"There is going to be a lot of backlash from that (U.S.) Supreme Court decision (overturning a Texas anti-sodomy law)," Elkins said. "We’re already seeing some of it, and I’m afraid there’s going to be an increase in hate crimes.

"I’m 60 years old, and I don’t mind being a Matthew Sheppard (a young gay man killed in Wyoming several years ago) if that’s what it takes."

Michael Glass came from Pittsburgh with his wife and children for the second year in a row.

"I understand the simplicity of this," said Glass, casting a glance at the line of protestors, "and how misinformed some people are. But what I don’t understand is how it can be led by so-called Bible believing churches."

Jeff Daniels had no problem with that at all. Stocky and bearded, he staked out his own position on the hill above the bandstand with a large wooden cross and bullhorn louder than Knodel’s.

"I hear the argument that people should be able to do whatever they want to do in the privacy of their own bedroom," Daniels said. "I agree. If they want to go to hell, that’s up to them. It’s none of my business. But when they’re all over TV and movies, they’re coming into my living room. And then it becomes my business."

One of the speakers at Saturday’s rally, however, has chosen a different battleground than the Bible.

"The Koran speaks of marriage as a very important part of life as a Muslim," said Shiekh Daayiee Abdullah, a Sunni Muslim religious scholar from Washington, D.C. "It doesn’t specify that it had to be marriage between a man and a woman.

"Most people don’t understand their own book, and I say that of all religions. Sound bites get them excited, but they don’t understand the context. The story of Lot in the Bible, for instance, is misinterpreted."

Saturday’s speakers were interpersed with musical acts, one of which was female impersonator Ravyn Vega of Lynchburg.

Well over six feet tall and tottering in his blocky high heels ("That’s why I have to keep a couple of people standing next to me, in case they have to catch me"), Vega led the crowd in the ’80s disco hits "We Are Family" and "I’m Coming Out."

A Virginia Commonwealth University student named Christmas Joye Abbott then stepped to the microphone and spoke about being beaten up on campus because she was a lesbian, choking back tears at the end.

And finally, the closing message came from Jimmy Creech of Raleigh, N.C., who was defrocked as a United Methodist minister in 1999 after presiding over two single-sex marriages in Nebraska.

"I changed my mind about this issue," Creech said earlier, "when a male member of my congregation down in North Carolina came out to me and told me all the oppression and persecution he had undergone as a gay man. That made a real impression on me."

As the afternoon wore on, the exchanges between the several hundred Soulforce members and the handful of protestors richocheted back and forth like echoes off a canyon wall.

"They’re screaming at you," said a Soulforce speaker, "but there’s no dialogue."

"You think you’re sophisticated because you’re in rebellion against the Lord!" Daniels shot back.

"God is not hate! God is love!"

"If everyone believed as you did," Knodel retorted, "it would be the end of society. All of you are the result of heterosexuality."

Several young boys were part of the protest team, their shrill voices providing a constant counterpoint: "God hates you! You’re an abomination! You’re going to burn in hell!"

And the red truck made its ceaseless rounds, two yellow wooden tablets listing the Ten Commandments attached to the back of the cab.

"You fish where people are at," said Jeff Daniels. "That’s why I’m a street preacher."

On the other side of the asphalt divide, Michael Glass said: "I’m looking forward to the day when we won’t have to have this event any more, because it won’t be necessary."

碁 Contact Darrell Laurant at dlaurant@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5544.

Soulforce Claims Proclamation by Bush is Anti-American and Anti-Family

Makes Commitment to Educate People of Faith to Support Equal Marriage Rights, beginning Oct. 11, 2003 in Lynchburg, VA

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Soulforce Press Release: October 6, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-278-0592 email:Laura@soulforce.org
****************************************************

(Lynchburg, VA) – Soulforce leaders today expressed shock and dismay at President Bush’s Proclamation declaring Oct 12-18 Marriage Protection Week. Leaders pledged to organize civil marriage forums across the United States to “educate people of faith about the injustice and spiritual violence caused by ignorance and misinformation surrounding equal civil marriage rights.”

The first Marriage Equality Forum is being held October 11, 2003 at 9am at First Christian Church in Lynchburg, VA, home of anti-gay rightwing televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell. Soulforce claims that Jerry Falwell, the outspoken anti-gay pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, “is at the center of much of the spiritual violence and anti-gay religious teachings that are used to deny equal civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.”

“Bush’s proclamation and the Marriage Protection Week are based on misguided religious teachings which cross the boundaries of church/state separation and the principles of religious liberty,” declared Laura Montgomery Rutt, spokesperson for Soulforce, Inc. “To deny American families equal protections under the law based on a single misguided definition of family is not only anti-family, it is anti-American.”

The purpose of the Soulforce civil marriage forum on Saturday is to teach people of faith to advocate for equal marriage rights, and counter the inaccurate perception that there is only one definition of “marriage” and only one definition of “family”.

“All religions are free to decide what marriages they recognize and what marriages they don’t,” said Chris Purdom, Presbyterian elder and leader of the Soulforce Presbyterian denominational team. “But the government has a civil obligation to ensure equal rights for all people.”

Chris Purdom is one of the panelist for the Marriage Equality Forum, and will be speaking about faith based support for equal civil marriage rights. Chris is married, has two children, and cocoordinates the Interfaith Working Group in Philadelphia.

Other speakers include: Peter Montgomery, Vice President of Communications for People for the American Way; John Aravosis, founder of Wired Strategies and dontamend.com; and Chalee Snorton, grassroots organizer for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Soulforce leaders hope this Marriage Equality Forum will be a used as a model in other areas around the country to educate people of faith about the injustice of denying some families equal protection under the law, and how to help defeat an anti-gay Constitutional Amendment that codifies discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender families into law by defining civil marriage as between a man and a woman.

Soulforce is a member of the Freedom to Marry Coalition. The Soulforce policy statement in support of civil marriage rights is available at http://www.soulforce.org/main/civilmarriage.shtml

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. We employ the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

—————— Marriage Protection Week Proclamation follows———–

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 3, 2003

Marriage Protection Week, 2003
By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

Marriage is a sacred institution, and its protection is essential to the continued strength of our society. Marriage Protection Week provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America.

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and my Administration is working to support the institution of marriage by helping couples build successful marriages and be good parents.

To encourage marriage and promote the well-being of children, I have proposed a healthy marriage initiative to help couples develop the skills and knowledge to form and sustain healthy marriages. Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures. Through education and counseling programs, faith-based, community, and government organizations promote healthy marriages and a better quality of life for children. By supporting responsible child-rearing and strong families, my Administration is seeking to ensure that every child can grow up in a safe and loving home.

We are also working to make sure that the Federal Government does not penalize marriage. My tax relief package eliminated the marriage penalty. And as part of the welfare reform package I have proposed, we will do away with the rules that have made it more difficult for married couples to move out of poverty.

We must support the institution of marriage and help parents build stronger families. And we must continue our work to create a compassionate, welcoming society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect.

During Marriage Protection Week, I call on all Americans to join me in expressing support for the institution of marriage with all its benefits to our people, our culture, and our society.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim the week of October 12 through October 18, 2003, as Marriage Protection Week. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-eighth.

GEORGE W. BUSH

For more information, see www.soulforce.org. For media interviews, call 717-278-0592.

——————
Laura Montgomery Rutt
Director of Communications
Soulforce, Inc
Laura@soulforce.org
www.soulforce.org

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce employs the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

Lynchburg News and Advance Article: "Debate Over Gay Marriage Heats Up"

By Shannon Brennan
Lynchburg News and Advance
Sunday, October 5, 2003

Mel White has been in a committed, loving relationship for 22 years – with a man.

So there’s no guarantee that when White dies, his partner Gary Nixon can get his Social Security benefits, his pension or even his property. Only a marriage license can guarantee those things.

Gay couples in this country are not afforded the 1,000-plus legal benefits that come with a state-sanctioned marriage.

"We’re not asking for the r-i-t-e-s of marriage, we’re asking for the r-i-g-h-t-s of marriage," White said.

But many people have a hard time separating the religious aspect of marriage from the civil contract. The pastor at the church that White and Nixon attend many Sundays is no exception.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, now 70, has said he will dedicate the rest of his life to supporting a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

"Jerry has, in fact, become the No. 1 obstacle to our civil rights," White said.

Falwell’s continuing attack on homosexual behavior is what convinced White and Nixon to move to Lynchburg from California a year ago. For months, they lived across from Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in a tiny house before moving to another neighborhood. They still attend his church when they’re in town.

But Falwell and White, a man who ghost wrote Falwell’s autobiography, no longer have a dialogue about reducing violence toward the gay community – as they did four years ago when Soulforce first came to the Hill City.

"If he thinks we’re going to rewrite the Bible … he has another thing coming," Falwell said.

Falwell is the reason that Lynchburg has become the focal point of White’s Soulforce, an organization dedicated to ending what the group calls "spiritual" violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

Local and national members of Soulforce and 27 other organizations will gather in Lynchburg next week for a Gay Pride Fest that will include a forum on civil marriage equality and a vigil outside of Thomas Road Baptist Church.

"He’s certainly welcome to hold his vigils at our church," Falwell said.
White says he will continue to do so because Falwell has said repeatedly that gays are trying to destroy heterosexuality and the American family.

"He’s breaking the commandment on bearing false witness against his neighbor," White said. "He’s creating fear where there’s no reason for it."

By preaching an anti-homosexual message at his church and Liberty University, Falwell is convincing parents of gays that they should abandon their children, White said. And he’s doing terrible damage to the gay students who attend his university, White said.

"Jerry single-handedly is doing more to destroy families than anybody else," White said.

Falwell says he is not destroying families, but trying to preserve them.

"I spent all day in Washington (Wednesday) meeting with Dr. James Dobson and other pro-family leaders, and with leaders of Congress, concerning a constitutional amendment to define marriage forever as one man married to one woman," Falwell said.

Falwell said the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, already defines marriage that way, but he is convinced the Supreme Court will one day overturn it.

"It is adequate if the federal courts allow it to stand," Falwell said of DOMA, "but the federal courts are showing a continuing desire to ban traditional values from the public square and even recently legalized sodomy in the Texas case."

Falwell said that many people will continue to violate the biblical and legal definition of marriage, including unmarried heterosexual couples and polygamists, but the state should not give them benefits for their behavior.

"The idea is we don’t reward it with tax money," he said.

Falwell remains convinced that people choose to be gay.

"One is not born gay or born a promiscuous heterosexual," Falwell said. "Those are choices we make."

Falwell said Mel White abandoned his wife and children so he could shack up with his male lover, and that is ignoble.

White said if Falwell had a gay grandson or lesbian granddaughter, he might understand that people don’t choose their sexual orientation. He still holds out hope that Falwell will come around, as he did on the issue of desegregation.

White said his organization has 100,000 letters from people who think they’re lives are lost because of the attacks on their sexual orientation. He said he can’t bear to read his email any more.

"Jerry’s wasting lives with all this hyperbole," White said.

White said he wishes Falwell would address poverty, homelessness, empire building.

"He refuses to deal with the real issues that are a threat to this country," he said.

Falwell replies that he has always addressed such issues and will continue to, but preserving the family is critical to preserving the nation.

Laura Montgomery Rutt, special events coordinator and director of communications for Soulforce, said people are coming to Lynchburg to demonstrate to Falwell that love takes all forms.

"Our families are families, too," she said. "Love makes a family, it’s not the structure."

Rutt said religious institutions can discriminate all they want to when it comes to performing religious rituals. They do all the time, by refusing to marry divorced people or people of mixed religions, for example.

But the government-issued marriage license should not discriminate, she said.

"I see Soulforce as supporting the organizations out there working to change civil law," she said.

One of the speakers at the marriage forum will be Chris Purdom, co-coordinator of the Interfaith Working Group in Philadelphia, which works on equal rights for GLBT people, reproductive freedom and separation of church and state.

Purdom, who is a heterosexual, married with two kids, and a Presbyterian elder, said marriage is a place where separation of church and state has failed.

Ministers should not be signing documents that afford governmental rights. Any marriage ritual, he said, should be distinct from the licensing of marriage.

"A lot of religious institutions have been marrying same-gender couples, but without the license," he noted.

Purdom said the discrimination against gay couples is no different from past discrimination of mixed-race couples.

"It’s really the same question here," he said. "You can’t tell which person is being discriminated against."

Historically, Purdom said, the denial of a marriage contract has been a way to keep certain groups economically disadvantaged. In California, for example, Asians were once banned from marrying so that they could not pass wealth to their children. An earlier example comes from England, which only sanctioned marriage within the Church of England.

Property transfer is not the only concern. Custody issues involving children, medical, end of life and burial decisions can all be usurped by "legal" family members who might not have been involved in a gay person’s life for years, Purdom noted.

While many gay couples use wills and powers of attorney to try to transfer property and legal rights to their significant other, Purdom said too often families contest them and win.

Contact Shannon Brennan at sbrennan@newsadvance.com or (434) 385-5561.

Weekend of Gay Pride and Activism in Lynchburg, Virgina Sponsored by 27 National, Regional, and Local Organizations

October 10-12 Activities include Civil Marriage Forum, Pride Festival, and Vigil at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church

Soulforce Press Release: October 1, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-278-0592 email:Laura@soulforce.org

(Lynchburg, VA) – A weekend of gay pride and activism in Lynchburg, Virginia will take place October 10-12, 2003, and is being sponsored by 27 religious and civil rights organizations. Lynchburg is the home of anti-gay televangelist Jerry Falwell, who stated that he is dedicating his talents, time, and energies to the passage of an (anti-gay) amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Jerry Falwell says that he wants to ‘protect traditional families,’ but what he is doing is promoting discrimination against our families,” said Gina Grubb, one of the organizers from Tennessee. “Our families are families, too. What Jerry doesn’t seem to grasp is that it is LOVE that makes a family, not the family structure itself!”

OCTOBER 11 – NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY in LYNCHBURG, VA

9:00 am – CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY FORUM focused on religious support for equal marriage rights, at First Christian Church, 3019 Rivermont Avenue – with representatives from Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, People for the American Way, Interfaith Working Group, and Dontamend.com.

12:30 am – PRIDE MARCH TO THE PARK from First Christian Church to Riverside Park, along Rivermont Avenue.

1:00 pm – COMING OUT AND ABOUT IN LYNCHBURG – This mini-pridefest includes merchandise from Lambda Rising Bookstore – Washington DC, information booths from many of the sponsors listed below, and a variety of music – female impersonator Ravyn Vega from Lynchburg, trombonist Ben Hunt and singer/songwriter Shana Scudder, both formerly of Lynchburg, electric guitarist Joe Osborne from Charlottesville, Christian contemporary singer Marcus Young, singer/songwriter Judy Insly, poet Laurie Pollack, opera singer Arthur Pekar, and more. Speakers will include openly gay Muslim cleric Imam Abdullah from Washington DC, Rev. Jimmy Creech, Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, and others. Soulforce Youth coordinator Jake Reitan will be the emcee.

Other weekend activities include:

  • October 9-10, (Thurs-Fri) Soulforce local group grassroots training – Wyndam Inn on Candler Mt. Road.
  • October 10 at 7pm, (Fri. night) Soulforce Nonviolence training –First Christian Church, 3019 Rivermont Ave.
  • October 12 at 8am, (Sunday morning) Vigil and blessing of families in front of Falwell’s church – Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Sponsors include: Al-Fatiha (GLBTQI Muslims), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catawba Valley PFLAG, Dontamend.com, Equality Virginia, Family Pride Coalition, First Christian Church (Lynchburg), Fellowship of Reconcilliation, First Light Ministries, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Interfaith Working Group, Lambda Rising Bookstore, Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia, Love Makes a Family, Inc., Lynchburg PFLAG, Marriage Equality – USA, MCC Charlottesville, New Beginnings Christian Church of Richmond, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, Remnant Worship Group, Roanoke – 7, Soulforce, Inc., Virginia NOW, Virginia Organizing Project – Lynchburg Chapter, Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club, World Congress of GLBT Jews, and more added daily.

MEDIA VISUALS: Throughout the weekend, participants will carry large photographs of same-gender couples and their families. A blessing of couples and families will take place outside Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday during services.

For more information, see www.soulforce.org. For media interviews, call 717-278-0592.

——————
Laura Montgomery Rutt
Director of Communications
Soulforce, Inc
Laura@soulforce.org
www.soulforce.org

Soulforce is a national interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce employs the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.