New Jersey Court Affirms Equal Rights for Same-sex Partners: Soulforce Urges the State Legislature to Act Boldly to End Discrimination

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: October 26, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Media Director
Cell: 512-659-1771
paige@soulforce.org
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(Austin, TX) — In a momentous decision yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme court ruled that "committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples." While the court unanimously affirmed gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional right to equal protection, a majority opinion left it to the New Jersey state legislature to decide whether same-sex relationships will be recognized by the name of marriage.

Writing for the majority, Justice Barry T. Albin affirmed the state’s interest in providing full civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, arguing that "to the extent that families are strengthened by encouraging monogamous relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the Court cannot discern a public need that would justify the legal disabilities that now afflict same-sex domestic partnerships."

"The New Jersey court’s opinion belies the distorted reasoning that would frame protecting gay and lesbian families as a threat to the moral fabric of American society. In recognizing the equal needs and rights of same-sex couples and their children, this decision gives hope to all gay and lesbian Americans," said Paige Schilt, Soulforce Media Director.

The ruling gave the New Jersey legislature 180 days to either "amend the marriage statutes" to include same-sex couples or "create a separate statutory structure."

"As the New Jersey legislature responds to the court’s ruling, Soulforce hopes that they will learn from the painful lessons of American history," Schilt continued. "A ‘separate but equal’ system of rights is inherently unequal, and the legislature should act boldly to end discrimination in marriage."


Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Monday at Regent University

by Carl Millender

Today began with a sense of awe at what I was going to do and work that was taking place. Never before in my life have I felt as though I had such purpose; and yet, for that last few days on this ride, I have begun every day with this same feeling. As I stepped out of bed, I saw the ocean. As its waves lapped against the shore, I was reminded of God’s awesome grace– the very grace that I would need in order to survive the rest of the day.

Upon our arrival at Regent University we were greeted with a fleet of police cars that pulled out as soon as our bus was seen nearing the campus (it was later hinted to me that our bus has been under constant surveillance since we arrived in town). The bus then briefly stopped by the side of the road and was boarded by a police officer who warned us that if we so much as stepped foot on the Regent University or any of the surrounding property that we would be given no warning but would be immediately arrested. The feeling in the air was tense, especially because up until few days ago we had struck a deal with the university to allow us not only onto their campus but we had also been asked by members of the faculty to speak in classes. However, we received a letter from the university not much more than a week ago telling us they had rescinded their offer. As I looked out the window at the not-that-small army of Police officers I knew they weren’t kidding.

At this point, riders began to become a bit discouraged, but we continued our discussions with the police and found a place where we could hold a silent vigil. So we marched into place and turned our gaze upon the school with our pamphlets of "What the Bible does and doesn’t say about Homosexuality."

We stood in peace for those who had taken their own lives because of the message that God rejects them. We stood voiceless for those who did not have a voice in their mistreatment, and we stood silent for all those who suffer in silence every day because they believe they are less than worthy because of the messages that are coming from schools like Regent. At that moment, as we stood together, we were one in our commitment, in our goal, and in our desire to see things change.

As the police force around the campus continued to grow we noticed that they were not only holding us at bay, but they were also keeping back many students who did have a true and honest desire to dialogue with us. Hope seemed fleeting until one of our riders had the bright idea of writing his phone number on a large piece of paper and held it up for the students to see. Once he did that his phone spring to life.

The students were then told they could meet with us at the 7-11 across the street from campus and a crowd of students began to gather. We had accomplished our goal for the day and enjoyed a moment of victory. As we realized that we had actually managed against all odds to speak with the student we broke our silence and began to sing.

When the time came to leave, we were all very tired; and yet, something was struck within us all, but me especially. As I walked away from the school knowing all the good we had done and knowing that the desire to have us there was strong among he students, something inside me was compelled and I knew that tomorrow I was going on that campus. I would try to reach those students no matter what the cost.

Soulforce Staff

 
Rev. Dr. Cindi Love
Executive Director

Dr. Cindi Love brings a wide range of leadership, management and organizational experience to her new role as Soulforce’s Executive Director. From January 2005 until April 2009, she served as the Executive Director of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). Prior to MCC, she served as an Executive Dean in the third largest community college system in the United States, as a Senior Executive of The Toro Company (NYSE:TTC) and CEO and Founder of several award winning corporations, including one named to the INC 500 in 1990. In 1990, Dr. Love was named one of the "Top 50 Entrepreneurs" in North America by Inc. Magazine, the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Love is the creator of the Would Jesus Discriminate? campaign and author of a book by the same name.

 
Bill Carpenter
Director of National Actions

Bill grew up in Memphis, TN where in his early teens, he witnessed much of the civil rights movement, including nonviolent demonstrations and marches led by Dr. King, Rev. James Lawson and his brother Phil and other of his present day heroes. After graduating from the University of Alabama, he worked in business and marketing in retailing and real estate. Coming out as a 40 year old, he shifted his attention from a traditional business career to a life of service. Presently, Bill is an active student of Truth principles, active at his Unity church and as a trainer in welcoming diversity and in principles of nonviolence. Bill says one of his greatest Soulforce experiences was early in Soulforce history at the UMC convention in Cleveland, OH in 2000 hearing two of his s/heroes Bob and Jeanie Graetz tell about the "second time their house was firebombed" while living in Montgomery, Alabama.

Today, I call upon every LGBT person to reach deep within and connect with the joyous truth of who you are and declare, once and for all, I will not accept being treated as a 2nd class person or citizen of my country. Today, I stand with all oppressed peoples of the earth and declare: I am whole and worthy and loved – just as I am!

 

Gary Nixon

Director of Business

Gary is Co-Founder of Soulforce and has been with the organization before conception doing what has been needed from behind the scenes. He spends many hours each day managing donations and expenses, and filling orders for those who have requested one of Soulforce’s print or video resources. Working as a team, he and Mel have celebrated 28 years of life together and are looking forward to the next 28.

"My wish for Soulforce is that eventually we are no longer needed, that we will have been accepted into the human family like the rest of the population and now we can get down to business to do what really needs to be done."


Kara Speltz
Administrative Coordinator

Kara has been involved with Soulforce since 1999, prior to the first action in Lynchburg. Coming out of a Catholic Worker background she has been a peace and justice activist for over forty years. Her activities have ranged from participation in the Catholic left draft board and corporation actions of the late 60’s and early 70s, staffing Catholic Worker houses of hospitality, anti-racist work, prison work, and union organizing.

In March, 2002, she traveled to Iraq just days after the war started reaching Baghdad before the American occupation of that city and then returning two years later to witness the disastrous results of that occupation. As Administrative Coordinator her responsibilities involve being a "jill-of-all trades," so to speak; from assisting in research for Mel’s books and articles, writing and/or editing pieces for publication, to ensuring people who write to Soulforce get responses.


Haven Herrin Haven Herrin
Director of Development

I am a teacher, artist, activist and aspiring yogi and DJ.  I use "they" and "them" as my gender pronouns because I prefer words that locate me within the gender system with as little stability as possible.  Some days I am high femme, some days more trans. This flexibility and self-recreation is part of my queer existence.  The small things, like asking the busker not to sing songs that are anti-woman, and the big things, like helping to launch busfulls of activists, are all part of a life lived as an activist.  I think a lot about racism, international solidarity, and the myriad ways that the gendermonster is iterated in our lives.  I am happy to work with Soulforce as it grows into its intersectional justice skin and remains a place of infinite possibility. I also serve as a represntative of North America to the board for the International Lesbian and Gay Association.



Haven Herrin Jason Conner
Director of Programs

Jason Conner comes to Soulforce after completing the 2010 Equality Ride. Though he is from West Virginia, he has lived in various parts of the country, including Utah, California, and Florida. Jason was raised LDS (Mormon) and served a two year mission in the Florida – Orlando Mission. He left the church upon coming out joining the Equality Ride. Jason has worked with and for various non-profits over the past ten years – including United Way, The Red Cross, Utah Family Partners, The Central Florida Compassion Outreach Center, and the BSA. He was part of the successful campaign to elect Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia (2004). In the 2002 interim election, Jason was the youngest person on the ballot in the state of West Virginia, where he ran for the Democratic Executive Comittee. He served one term. Jason resides in Philadelphia and works full time as the Director of Programs for Soulforce.


Soulforce Board of Directors and Executive Director’s Round Table

Board of Directors

In accordance with Soulforce Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, the Board of Directors has full oversight authority and insures that the organization remains focused on its mission, prepares annual budgetary projections, and assists in fundraising to help reach program goals.

Round Table

The Executive Director’s Round Table is a diverse group of distinguished individuals that provide counsel, professional knowledge, and public relations to supplement the skills of the Soulforce management team and Board of Directors.

Chuck Phelan, Board ChairChuck Phelan, Board Chair Dr. Sylvia RhueDr. Sylvia Rhue
Dr. Julie NemecekDr. Julie Nemecek Dan KarslakeDan Karslake
Dr. Rodney PowellDr. Rodney Powell
Bill CarpenterBill Carpenter Dr. Judith StaceyDr. Judith Stacey
Karen BallKaren Ball Rev. Phil LawsonRev. Phil Lawson
Rev. Paul EgertsonRev. Paul Egertson Judy OsborneJudy Osborne
Phil ReitanPhil Reitan Rev. Jimmy CreechRev. Jimmy Creech
Jay BakkerRev. Jay Bakker
Rev. Gil CaldwellRev. Gil Caldwell

Soulforce Board of Directors and Advisory Board

Board of Directors

In accordance with Soulforce Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, the Board of Directors has full oversight authority and insures that the organization remains focused on its mission, prepares annual budgetary projections, and assists in fundraising to help reach program goals.

Advisory Board

The Advisory Board is a diverse group of distinguished individuals that provide counsel, professional knowledge, and public relations to supplement the skills of the Soulforce management team and Board of Directors.

Chuck Phelan, Board ChairChuck Phelan, Board Chair Dr. Sylvia RhueDr. Sylvia Rhue
Dr. Julie NemecekDr. Julie Nemecek Dan KarslakeDan Karslake
Karen BallKaren Ball Dr. Rodney PowellDr. Rodney Powell
Carol BoltzCarol Boltz Rev. Gil CaldwellRev. Gil Caldwell
Bill CarpenterBill Carpenter Dr. Judith StaceyDr. Judith Stacey
Rev. Phil LawsonRev. Phil Lawson
Judy OsborneJudy Osborne
  Rev. Jimmy CreechRev. Jimmy Creech
 
  Jay BakkerJay Bakker

Rev. Phil Lawson

Rev. Phil LawsonRev. Phil Lawson is a United Methodist Minister and veteran of the 1960’s civil rights movement. Over 40 years ago, it was the Rev. Phil Lawson’s brother, Rev. Jim Lawson, who trained the Freedom Riders in nonviolence prior to their journey to justice for civil rights. Rev. Lawson is courageously outspoken in his support of LGBT equality and has participated in several Soulforce actions over the years. He is currently the Interfaith Program Director for East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) where he leads the Interfaith Action in Housing Program. He remains active with Richmond Vision 2000, Northern California Inter-Religious Conference, Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights and California Council of Churches. (Photo courtesy of East Bay Housing Organizations, EBHO.)

Rev. Paul Egertson

Rev. Paul EgertsonThe Rev. Paul W. Egertson graduated with a B.A. from Pepperdine College in 1955 and received his Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in 1960. He spent the following years serving as a pastor of the former American Lutheran Church and received his Ph.D. from the Claremont School of Theology in 1976. He served as Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from 1995 until 2001. He resigned one month before the end of his term after ordaining a lesbian as a Pastor and taking a public stand for justice in opposition to the official policy of his denomination. He currently serves as a Senior Lecturer at the California Lutheran University where he has taught full time or part time since 1984. He has published numerous articles and book chapters and earned awards from multiple organizations for his steadfast support of the LGBT community. He and his wife, Shirley, have been married since 1956 and have six children, twelve grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Rev. Jimmy Creech

Rev. Jimmy CreechJimmy Creech was an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church from 1970 to 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Divinity from The Divinity School of Duke University. In July of 1996, Jimmy was appointed Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. In March of 1998, he was acquitted in a church trial of a charge of violating the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church when he celebrated a covenant ceremony for two women in September of 1997. In April of 1999, Jimmy celebrated the holy union of two men in Chapel Hill, NC. New charges were brought against him and a second church trial was held in Grand Island, Nebraska, on November 17, 1999. The jury declared Jimmy guilty of “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church” and withdrew his credentials of ordination. From 2000 to 2005, Jimmy was Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Soulforce. Jimmy was also the Executive Director of Faith In America from December 2005 through November 2007.

Rev. Gil Caldwell

Rev. Gil CaldwellRev. Caldwell received his education at Boston University School of Theology, Harvard Divinity School, and North Carolina A. & T. State University. He is a retired United Methodist Minister who participated in the "Mississippi Freedom Summer" of 1964, the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, and the March on Washington. Rev. Caldwell is a founding member of the United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church and the Black Methodists for Church Renewal. He is also a member of the Board of Preachers and Scholars at the Martin Luther King International Chapel, Morehouse College, and the author of two books and numerous book chapters, newspaper, and magazine articles. Rev. Caldwell and has wife, Grace, have been married for 47 years and have two sons and one granddaughter.