By Cate Monaghan
The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide the legality of "Proposition 8," the controversial initiative defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. In the weeks since "Prop 8" was approved by voters on November 4, a number of members of the California-Nevada Annual Conference have joined "No on 8" protests held around the state and across the nation.
A demonstration outside the California State Capitol in Sacramento on Sunday, November 9 drew thousands of people, according to Jack Mueller, a member of Davis United Methodist Church—who attended alongside his wife, the Rev. Janet S. Mueller.
"We held up our church banner, with the approval of our pastor, and cheered with the thousands who were with us," Mueller says. The Rev. Manohar Joshi is pastor of Davis UMC.
"Folks who saw our banner had three reactions: ignored it, hugged us for being there, or—and this one broke our hearts—people were shocked to know that Christians were against Prop 8. They thought all churches were pushing to stop same-gender marriages," he reports.
(The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly called the Mormon Church—lobbied heavily in favor of the initiative.)
On Saturday, November 15, there was a concerted effort of nationwide demonstrations. The Muellers were also among the 50-or-so people who gathered outside City Hall in Vacaville, California, joining several members of the Vacaville, St. Paul's UMC congregation, including the church's pastor, the Rev. Sandy Gess.
"I was alerted to the event by one of our members, Kristen Loomis, who is very active in the gay community," Gess says. "I emailed everyone in our church, encouraging them to come. Out of 50 demonstrators, eight were from St. Paul's. Some colorful signs were made by the eight-year-old daughter of one lesbian couple who are members of our church. One of our members, Brenda Turner, wrote a powerful Letter to the Editor at our local paper, which was circulated during the demonstration."
An early Reconciling Congregation
"St. Paul's UMC-Vacaville was one of the first churches in this Conference to become a Reconciling Congregation in 1972," Gess says. "We are a blended congregation: gay and straight; old and young; white, black, and Hispanic. Our church posted 'No on 8' signs on our property throughout the campaign. Our Bible study class watched the powerful documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So … [which] includes a lot of incredibly moving stories from several Christian families with gay children, including Gene Robinson [the openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church]. So to be engaged in this demonstration with our lesbian sisters and gay brothers is in keeping with the mission of our church."
Gess says she wore a rainbow stole and waved the church's rainbow flag with the demonstrators, and went up and down the demonstration line introducing herself as the pastor at St. Paul's.
"I had very good conversations with everyone there about our church," she says.
Gess reports that the crowd grew as people passed. Young people in particular, she says, would stop and park their cars, walk up, and ask for a sign to wave. Many others drove by, honking in support, she says.
"In a conservative town like Vacaville, I actually was surprised with the predominance of affirmation …. It was encouraging to see gays and lesbians demanding their rights back—and straights demonstrating with them. It is a new day in Vacaville," she notes.
Gess says that after the rally she desired to be of further help to the cause, so she contacted the local director of Equality Now and volunteered to host a forum, "What Now...After Prop. 8?" The tentative date for the forum is Monday, December 8, at 7:30 pm.
San Jose march draws thousands
Jim Vincent was one of several members of Almaden Hills UMC in San Jose who participated in a "No on 8" march to the San Jose City Hall on November 15. The Rev. Margo Tenold, Chair of the Conference Board of Church and Society, also took part.
(She is shown at center of photo at left, with head bowed, to the right of the woman wearing red stole and sunglasses.)
"In the vigils, thousands of cars passed, honking in support, while there were only a handful of nasty responses," Tenold says. "The vigils were healing in that the LGBT community heard the support of those who were also disappointed—outraged?—at the result [of the election]. Our theme was 'Standing on the Side of Love,' with slogans [such as] 'Love makes a marriage. Love makes a family.'"
Tenold says it's her belief that many of those who opposed "Prop 8" were also strong supporters of Barack Obama—and put their energies into his campaign for the Presidency at the expense of the "No on 8" effort, in the belief that the initiative stood no chance of passage.
However, she says, "The Council of Churches, my Extension Ministry, has been very active in the 'No on 8' campaign. We have had a Gay Ministries Committee since 1993 and participated in the recent vigils, phone banking, [and] held a workshop and forums," among other efforts.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, approximately 2,000 people took part in the San Jose march on November 15, while another 7,500 rallied in San Francisco.
At the California-Nevada Annual Conference Session in June, members approved resolutions celebrating the California Supreme Court's ruling that allowed same-sex marriage, and commending those retired clergy who choose to officiate at such marriage ceremonies.
But while the United Methodist Church holds that "all persons are of sacred worth," at its 2008 General Conference the denomination affirmed its definition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman.