Why a handful of Santa Cruz religious leaders are keeping the wedding bells ringing
For the brief five months that same-sex marriages were recognized by California state law, Rabbi Paula Marcus was able to say “by the power invested in me by the State of California” when she performed marriages for LGBT couples. She says that one sentence is the only thing that has changed since Proposition 8 passed on Nov. 4.
Marcus, the associate rabbi at Temple Beth El , is one of many local religious leaders who will continue to perform same-sex marriages despite the 52 percent victory of Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.” She feels that it is the religious community’s job to continue to look after the other 48 percent (71 percent in Santa Cruz County) who were in favor of granting equal marriage rights to all Californians.
“There is sadness and disappointment [after the election], but we are going to keep marrying people because, as religious leaders, this is the work we do: joining people,” she says. Marcus married three same-sex couples after the California high court ruling in May that made it legal, including a lesbian couple at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay on Nov. 1—just three days before the election. However, she says that she was performing weddings for members of the LGBT community long before the historic 2008 ruling.
The same goes for Dave Grishaw-Jones, senior minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz . “We didn’t wait for the California Supreme Court to tell us we could,” he says. “We believed from the beginning that all of these couples deserve and merit the same kind of love and enthusiasm the rest of us get.”
Grishaw-Jones has presided over several dozen gay marriages over the years, including a “flurry” of them in the weeks leading up to the election. He, too, has no intention of stopping now that the state has deemed it illegal. The only difference will be that, like in years past, they will be religiously sanctioned, rather than legally. In the eyes of the state, this means that any such wedding is actually a “commitment ceremony,” although Grishaw-Jones would disagree.
“I’ve always called these marriages,” he says. “In the eyes of the community and in the eyes of God, it is my job to help these couples express their commitment to each other. It’s the state’s job to sort out their business and make sure everyone gets equal rights, but it doesn’t change what we do in this community.
“We will absolutely, positively continue with even more resolve to really bless and care for these couples,” he adds.
Progressive religious centers, such as First Congregational, Temple Beth El, and Inner Light Ministries in Santa Cruz , were in an interesting position when it came to Proposition 8. Even amongst faith groups that do not condemn homosexuality, many still uphold marriage as a “one man, one woman” deal. These religious communities were the fuel for Proposition 8. The religious momentum behind the proposition reflected the fundamental ideological differences within the faith. Grishaw-Jones has dealt with these discrepancies for a long time, and often welcomes LGBT people into his congregation who are seeking refuge from more restrictive religious spaces.
“Churches and religious institutions do all sorts of crazy things, but it’s painful to see the cost in terms of peoples lives,” he says. He says that it was imperative, albeit difficult, to act as opposition to their Christian counterparts throughout the campaign
“In the end, God is not the God of judgment, but of welcoming,” he says. “The Catholics have really missed the boat on this one, and the Mormons have as well. The Fundamentalist Protestants perhaps more than the rest.”
Although there was not much talk across the pews during the campaign, progressive religious groups are now interested increasing their outreach to the more conservative communities that helped pass the proposition.
“Rather than the religious left and right barking at one another, there is an interest amongst us in this progressive church to reach out and maybe bump that 48 percent higher,” Grishaw-Jones says with hope.
Rather than maintain restrictive beliefs, he says that religious bodies should be at the forefront of social change. “Religion has always been a setting where difficult issues and social movement can be discussed. The anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements were started in the church, not in politics.”
Dan Kimball is the Pastor at Vintage Faith , a Santa Cruz church that does not allow same-sex marriage but did not publicly support Proposition 8. When it comes to politics, Kimball says that Vintage Faith encourages its congregation to use their God-given mind and the teachings of the Scriptures to make their voting decisions.
“Our prayer is that people will be able to study, pray and discern what Scriptures say or don’t say about all types of issues that may come up in any decision they make in life, whether [they are] personal day to day decisions about how to be a mom or dad or about loving others, or about how they vote on propositions,” he says.
He calls Vintage Faith “moderately conservative church in terms of theology, but very progressive culturally,” and recognizes that other religious institutions who also stick closely to the Scripture may take more restrictive routes.
“There are many churches who hold conservative viewpoints on things Scripturally, but do so in a loving, winsome, intelligent and holistic way. However, some churches who don’t [allow same sex-marriage] certainly can have bad attitudes,” he says, adding that these attitudes help to create negative public opinion of the religion.
He hopes that churches who do not support gay marriage are not lumped in with the politics of Prop 8, as many in those communities, such as himself, feel strongly that the issue is full of “sensitivity with real people’s lives and real people’s dreams.”
Religious leaders like Grishaw-Jones and Marcus want to challenge the institutions that claim there is no room in religion for homosexuality. The Bible has been interpreted to mean many things; however, Grishaw-Jones says that if the book is clear about one thing, it is “love and justice.”
“The heartbeat of Christian religion has to do with how we care for one another,” he says. “What we believe now about love and human sexuality is that you can love in all kinds of ways and what is most important is that you do it with respect.”
Marcus says that the answer is in the first pages of the Bible. As the story goes, God created the heavens and the earth and “it was good.” But then he created a lone man, and it wasn’t so good. “He says it is not good for a human being to be alone,” she says. “Each person is blessed with the divine right to find a partner, whomever that may be.”
These local religious communities have joined the thousands of Prop 8 protesters across California to continue fighting the amendment. Grishaw-Jones spoke at the Nov. 18 Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting, urging the county to join San Francisco’s lawsuit against the proposition. The board voted unanimously to do so. Both he and Marcus, along with many others from the LGBT religious community, spoke words of comfort to a crowd of hundreds at a post-Prop 8 vigil on Nov. 8 at First Congregational.
But the biggest way they will continue to fight for equal rights to marry? By continuing to perform same-sex marriages. As for including the “by the power invested in me” California stamp of approval in her wedding ceremonies, Marcus is optimistic. She says, “We’re hoping I get to say that again soon.”