Ruling evokes praise, disappointment locally

As euphoric supporters cried, hugged one another and cheered, disappointed opponents vowed the Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage will not sound a death knell for their beliefs.

Jeffery Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said his organization — which brought Edie Windsor’s case forward — was “overjoyed.” Windsor sued after being billed $363,000 in federal estate taxes when her wife, whom she married in Canada, died in 2009.

Mittman said now lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples will be treated the same as heterosexual couples in the eyes of federal law.

“We’re happy, not only on behalf of the LGBT community, but really for all Americans,” he said. “It’s fair to say today is one of those historic decisions we can all be proud of, and that history will look back on this as an important step forward in granting constitutional protections to all Americans.”

Mittman said ACLU’s supporters were pausing for a day to savor their victory.

He said Missouri’s situation — vis-a-vis the Supreme Court’s rulings — is a “complicated landscape” and he wasn’t certain yet how government officials would react.

“For couples living in Missouri, it’s important that the federal government recognize those marriages for federal purposes,” he said. “We’ll be working to ensure those couples are granted their rights under federal law.”

Don Love, a board member at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Jefferson City, said his group has been a “Welcoming Community” to people of all sexual orientations for years, ever since Missouri voters passed Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

Love was gratified by the Supreme Court’s rulings. He said being gay isn’t a choice.

“Sexual orientation comes about as part of someone’s innermost nature,” Love said. “They want to live open, fulfilling lives, and the Supreme Court’s decision brings them one step closer to that goal.”

Love said even in conservative communities such as Jefferson City, a cultural shift has taken place. He noted most people know someone who is openly gay, and employers rarely terminate workers for their sexual orientation, even though no law prevents them from doing so.

Love said the matter has not been controversial within his own congregation.

“People should have the opportunity to make their own choices about who is their life partner,” he said.

Baptist and Catholic leaders were more dismayed by the court’s action on Wednesday.

“The court’s decisions do not surprise us, but they disappoint us for at least two reasons,” said John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “First the branches of our federal government continue to chisel away states’ rights to carry out the will of their people. Second, and more disturbing, they reflect the fact that a growing number of Americans increasingly embrace behaviors that violate natural law and biblical truth.”

Yeats said the justices who voted to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act had the opportunity to uphold marriage and return authority for marriage policies to citizens. Instead they chose to “legislate from the bench,” he said.

Yeats said the debate will continue.

He suggested, instead of “throwing rocks” at the court or bemoaning the gay agenda, Christians should “stand on the scripture and search their own souls.”

“One reason Christians seem to be losing the debate is because our lives don’t show evidence that morality truly makes a difference,” he said. “Our divorce rates, sexual immorality and other worldly pursuits mirror those of society in general. Our words about God’s power to transform lives ring hollow because too often our actions show we don’t really believe it. Our example should always be Jesus. He showed the deepest compassion for the greatest sinners, yet he never compromised on the truth of human sinfulness and the need for God’s forgiveness.”

In a statement, Catholic Bishop John Gaydos noted the court’s sharply divided decisions were not totally unexpected, but nonetheless deeply disappointing.

Gaydos wrote he was dismayed that the court “decided that Congress could not legitimately define marriage in a way that not only comports with our church’s teaching, but in a way that every society in the entire history of the human race has understood.”

“Catholics will continue vigorously, but respectfully, to uphold the institution of marriage as it has been understood through the ages,” he said.

He added they also will continue to encourage lawmakers to enact legislation within the scope of the new rulings to protect the institution of marriage, as well as the “conscience rights” that religious people are entitled to under the First Amendment.

Not all Christians view same-sex marriage in that same light.

Clairnel Nervik, pastor of Peace United Church of Christ, said the UCC’s General Synod — its governing body — voted eight years ago to support equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian people.

“And many of our pastors performed weddings for many, many years before that,” she added. “I’m personally supportive and happy to see this has happened.”

Although some UCC churches may decline to perform same-sex marriages, Nervik said, for the most part, most UCC adherents do not believe homosexuality is a sin. Nervik noted other practices that were permissible in ancient cultures — slavery and polygamy, for example — are no longer palatable to modern society, and she views prohibitions against homosexuality in a similar vein.

Nervik doesn’t expect to see Missouri’s culture change overnight, but she believes the Supreme Court’s decision will matter over time.

“I have many friends and family in long-term gay and lesbian relationships, and I can believe this will make a difference to them,” she said.

Keith Vessell, a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City, didn’t think the Supreme Court’s ruling would affect his local congregation. He noted the worldwide Methodist Church’s bylaws — enacted about a year ago, and revisited quadrennially — currently ban pastors from performing same-sex marriages.

Vessell said the debate has created some tensions in the Methodist world.

“There are different convictions on both sides of the thought process,” Vessell said.

But Vessell said of the Supreme Court’s decision: “Any time we can help guide our society into equality for all, that’s a good thing.”

In the community, many young adults and college students celebrated Wednesday’s events.

LaBradford Davis, a Lincoln University student who supports the LGBT organization on campus, was thrilled.

“I don’t understand why this is such a big deal,” he said. “There is really no reason why two people (of the same gender) should not get married.”

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