Puerto Rico Will Host Mass Gay Wedding

Posted August 13th, 2015 by pikapp44

More than 60 gay couples are preparing to exchange vows at a mass wedding inPuerto Rico, celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affecting the socially conservative U.S. territory.

Most of the couples are Puerto Ricans, but others from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Venezuela also are participating in the event scheduled for Sunday in San Juan’s colonial district.

“This is a historic event for all of Puerto Rico,” said organizer Ada Conde, an attorney who had filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have her gay marriage recognized in the U.S. territory prior to the Supreme Court decision. “This is not a show. This is not a parade. This is a solemn event to celebrate the fruit of our sacrifice.”

Puerto Rico until recently prohibited same-sex marriage and the recognition of such marriages, but the government struck down those laws after the Supreme Court decision. Officials also now allow gay couples to adopt children, and two couples have already begun that process, said Nancy Vega, director of the island’s demographics office.

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.

But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.

Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”

Only two weeks ago, the Mormon Church hinted that it could remain in the fold so long as its units could pick their own leaders.

The top Boy Scouts leaders including Robert M. Gates, the current president and a former defense secretary who pushed for the new policy, did not immediately respond to the Mormon declaration. In previous statements, Mr. Gates expressed the hope that with the exemption for religious groups, the Boy Scouts might avoid a devastating splintering.

The policy change, which was expected, was widely seen as a watershed for an institution that has faced growing turmoil over its stance toward gay people, even as it struggles to halt a long-term decline in members. It was praised by gay-rights organizations as a major if incomplete step toward ending discrimination.

Mr. Gates gave an urgent warning in May that because of cascading social and legal changes, the organization had no choice but to end its ban on gay leaders.

In a statement on July 13, the Mormon Church seemed to suggest that it could accept the compromise adopted on Monday. The statement said that any new leadership standard must preserve for its churches “the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs.”

But scouting executives hope that with Monday’s change they can renew ties with corporate donors, schools and public agencies and attract parents who had steered their children away from scouting because of the policy.

“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth, helping them to grow into good, strong citizens,” said the statement Monday from the Boy Scouts.

The toughest challenge, Scouts leaders say, may be to capture the time and enthusiasm of today’s increasingly urban, diverse and over-scheduled youths. To increase their appeal, the Boy Scouts have built new adventure camps with mountain biking and zip lines, and have created new merit badges in fields like robotics and animation.

House and Senate Democrats introduced a bill aimed at expanding LGBT civil rights Thursday in the face of an ongoing battle between religious and individual freedoms.

The Equality Act would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964, providing protections across the board to ensure that LGBT individuals are not discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation–much like those afforded to other minority groups.

One couple speaking out about their support for the legislation is Krista and Jami Contreras, whose baby daughter was rejected by a pediatrician on the basis of religious belief.

After the couple researched pediatricians and chose a doctor for their baby, they were shocked to arrive for an appointment and learn the doctor they had chosen decided not to see them anymore. “We were humiliated, heartbroken. We were scared,” Krista Contreras said about the experience.

The fight Krista and Jami are facing is not an unprecedented one. Earlier this year, “religious freedom” bills were at the heart of the debate over whether businesses could deny services to same-sex couples because of religious beliefs. A recent Small Business Majority poll found that two-thirds of small business owners believe they should not be able to deny goods or services to someone based on their religious beliefs, while 55% of small business owners say they support laws banning discrimination.

Despite a seemingly powerful shift in public opinion in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Congress has yet to pass any strong LGBT legislation. The Equality Act is the first move by Democrats for LGBT rights since the historic ruling, although some worry it may not be enough against such strong Republican opposition.

“You have your rights, we should have ours. Even if you want to look at same-sex marriage or being gay as a choice, that’s fine. But religion is also a choice and that’s protected,” Jami said on msnbc Thursday morning. “It’s not trampling on your First Amendment when we’re just living our lives.”

Colin Israel an actor, writer, and musician based in New York City. He is currently performing in the Broadway production of “Matilda: the Musical.”

Last week, a relative reached out on his own accord to assure me that although he disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, he still loved and respected me as a gay family member. Drawing on my own experiences growing up in the Church, our collective family history, and my eventual coming out in a conservative religious culture, I sent the following response to him.

Dear Uncle G,

Your letter expressing your love and respect for me even though you disagree with the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling speaks to the heart of our current national dialogue regarding marriage equality and civil rights, specifically within religious communities and families. Please indulge me as I respond.

Within the Church, we are taught that we can (and should) “love the sinner and hate the sin.” In doing so, people of faith disassociate themselves from any harm or accountability to those whose identity is deemed inherently “sinful,” specifically: gay people. My understanding when I attended church was as follows:

If we can accept someone and yet not accept their “sin,” we’re effectively demonstrating love while still not condoning sinful behavior. Any confusion or hard feelings from outsiders due to this practice are misplaced. We’re merely maintaining God’s will on earth and adhering to His instructions as to how we should live. If our actions translate to prohibitive politics, reformative therapy, or the repression and rejection of someone’s identity, the church bears no responsibility for simply carrying out what we’ve been instructed to do. Furthermore, as sinners ourselves, we recognize that we all have to work to achieve salvation and it’s not on us to water down what is required of us as followers of Christ. Any dissension from those on the outside is often an instance of persecution for our faith.

Here’s the truth: that’s not the case. To ascribe to as much essentially passes the buck for some severely damaging policies and attitudes. Whatever the genuine, faith-based intentions of the church have been over the last five decades, their actions through anti-gay marriage campaigning and legislation have been inarguably prohibitive, discriminatory, and scathing to the American gay community.

During the decades in which churches have claimed to uphold a “standard” by campaigning and asserting the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman (even regardless of sexual persuasion), countless gay men, women, and couples have been shut out and left federally unrecognized. They’ve paid higher taxes than married couples with comparable assets, have been denied medical benefits, willfully withheld from visiting their partners in the hospital due to the fact that they aren’t “family,” and experienced countless inequalities on a consistent and massive scale.

Furthermore, the gay community has suffered an extraordinary amount of persecution and violence towards them in a country that bears responsibility for as much by consistently denying gays rights and, therefore, basic human value. Compounding that violence, churches have passionately preached and characterized gay folk as harmful, synonymous with pedophiles, and in danger of hell no matter what their personal actions demonstrate. Lastly, churches have ruthlessly preached the fearful ideology that legalizing gay marriage will rob America of its morals and values and fundamentally compromise the American family structure.

I alternately witnessed and felt every one of these examples in my childhood. When my parents told me at the age of eight that Uncle John was gay and had AIDS, it was intensely confusing and traumatizing to try to experience John’s love, affection, gifted nature, and presence in my life, yet have the legitimacy of that called immediately into question because of what I had been negatively taught about gay people as a child in church. Thankfully, my parents chose to keep my brother and I close to John until the end, as tragic as it was. However, after John’s death, you can imagine my sheer terror when my first substantial attractions leaned towards the other boys at school. This is not okay, I told myself. What have I done wrong? I felt betrayed by my own body, worthless, that I had done something terrible to cause these feelings which had to be rectified, and, of course, that I was in danger of hell. I hadn’t yet turned thirteen.

To make matters worse, just a few months after John’s passing our church began holding intensely emotional and distraught “Town Hall” meetings during Sunday night services in response to local petitions from gay men and women seeking legal recognition as couples (not even marriage, at that point). During these meetings, our leaders vehemently warned the congregation that this petition heralded the church’s darkest hour: that the passage of such laws would bring an assault on the church, hail the end of morals and values, and that the church MUST stand in the way of such destructive legislation. This only struck further terror into me and intensified my self-loathing.

School was no better: Taunted for being artistic and effeminate (the latter I effectively beat out of myself by high school), I received consistent harassment both physically and verbally for being “gay.” Truly, from school, to church, to John’s horrific death, there was no worse thing to be called or to be. And even, John, I wondered, did he bring this on himself? Was his death God’s punishment for being gay? Did his extraordinary mind, talent, his noteworthy contributions to the computer industry, generosity, love, and struggle with his identity not count for something in the eyes of God…?

Guess not.

After a painful and confused adolescence with some pretty self-destructive behavior, I moved into the present. The world finally opened up to me as I came out. To say “opened up” does not mean that life became easier, but gradually became clearer as I eventually found the integrity and honesty I thought I could never possess due to my attractions. The precept that I was doomed to a life without integrity because I was gay was the most insidious lie taught to me as a teenager, relentlessly communicated over and over again through church and church-influenced culture.

Much to my relief (and theirs), my immediate family didn’t pull away when I came out. Though we’ve moved through a few issues over time, they’ve got my back. There’s not merely an understanding between us, but a joyful acceptance of my identity. Something I know they’ve been longing for since they felt their own internal struggles with Uncle John when he came out to them in the ’70s. Being gay has become a welcome and celebrated part of me and my nuclear family.

Over time, I witnessed firsthand the frustrations, inequalities, and discriminations fced by my gay friends who were partnered. Gradually, marriage equality passed into legislation state by state and granted the couples in those states with equal rights regardless of their orientation. Few of these gay couples who benefited were religious. They sought a purely legal recognition of their partnership, even refusing to accept “civil unions” which still denied gay couples in certain benefits and rights afforded to those straight couples who were married.

As conservative opposition increasingly mounted from the naysayers in California, and in every state where this swiftly came to the forefront of the political stage, the overriding sentiment among my current community was one of befuddlement and incredulity. “What is their PROBLEM?” we asked. “The majority of us don’t WANT to get married in a church and aren’t TRYING to infringe on anyone else’s rights! MY rights have been infringed upon for the last 10/30/50 years! I want equal standing!”

So finally, after a battle spanning several generations, the Supreme Court cited the Constitution to recognize gay married couples as federally legitimate in all 50 states. Every marriage, regardless of orientation, now receives equal treatment under the law, granting victory to those who have worked tirelessly for their own benefit and the benefit of others for decades. As I walked jubilantly to work that Friday morning, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders that I hadn’t realized was there: I was finally an equal citizen in this country and no longer needed to fear that equality being threatened or taken away.

I took a moment to reflect on Uncle John and his legacy. I thought about the terror and uncertainty he had experienced growing up all the way until his death and considered my own traumatic history. Taking a breath, I reached toward John to share the hope and promise that this landmark decision would eradicate from the experiences of future generations of gay men and women the fears and abuses he had suffered. Nor did those fears hold a part in my story any longer. This ruling not only guarantees us equality, it dignifies and legitimizes us in a way we have not been prior to this moment. Whether marriage is a prospect for any one gay individual or not (and though there are certainly still battles to fight) we are equal and we are free. I thanked John for his and his generation’s part in that.

I know, and have known for some time, that you have not sided with gay Americans on this issue and further, your church has actively campaigned against marriage equality. Knowing this has not affected how I’ve interacted with you or the warmth I’ve shared when seeing you over the last few years. While I’ve not wholly ignored your stance on this issue, I figured a conversation regarding it would happen at the right time. Until such time, I didn’t feel we should hold back any of the love and affection we feel toward each other in the so few times we’re able to visit. I hope none of this will change.

However, I also hope this letter gives light to my confusion when you express that you love and respect me even though you disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision. The SCOTUS ruling, as I’ve detailed it, gives my community and I legal recognition and validation in a way we have never had. It extends my rights, legitimizes me and a prospective partner should we choose to marry, and affords me equal standing with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, likely my nephew, and you.

To hear you say you love me and yet disagree with that is confusing. In fact, as frustrating as it may be to hear, to say as much is discriminatory. That’s not an accusation, it’s a clear-cut fact. You can’t say you love someone (which assumes you want the best for them) and then disagree with a positive movement for their civil rights.

I love you. Sometimes when I visit with extended family on either side, there’s a distance from one or two people that’s never articulated. I can sense they feel awkward due to my sexuality and yet, they want to be warm. As a result, much to their own bewilderment, when they share that they’re proud of me and love me they’re also keeping an emotional distance.

This annoys me. Not because I think less of them for not having it all figured out or because I think they’re stupid, but because they don’t have to feel that way. Their confusion is completely fear-based and obstructs the positive energy they’re naturally trying to express. I’m guessing they’re annoyed, too. Not to mention fearful and sad.

That’s a crime. I should never have felt sweat-inducing fear for Uncle John’s soul at the age of eight and no one should feel fear for me (and you can be sure my nephew won’t feel any such fear, even if I have to strong-arm it). These fears only cause distance, which is needless and tragic. If you hold any of these fears within you, I hope you can find a way to process and move through them because distance isn’t fun, it’s not family, and it’s not necessary. Let me know how I can help.

Thank you for reading. I hope this provides an avenue for further dialogue.

All my love,

Colin

The sons of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) were disappointed with their father’s criticism of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on marriage equality, exemplifying the generational divide within the Republican Party on gay rights.

“I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake,” Walker said on June 26, when the Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.

That response didn’t sit well with his two sons, Matt and Alex, who are taking time off from college to help their father with his upcoming presidential campaign. In an interview with The Washington Post, Walker’s wife, Tonette, said she immediately heard from her sons about their displeasure with Walker’s comments.

“That was a hard one,” Tonette said. “Our sons were disappointed. … I was torn. I have children who are very passionate [in favor of same-sex marriage], and Scott was on his side very passionate.”

Last year, Alex served as the witness and best man at the wedding of Shelli Marquardt, Tonette’s cousin, and her partner, Cathy Priem.

“It’s hard for me because I have a cousin who I love dearly — she is like a sister to me — who is married to a woman, her partner of 18 years,” added Tonette.

Walker toned down his criticism of the Supreme Court the day after the ruling, when he went to Colorado with his wife for an event to a friendly crowd of conservatives. There, he instead said, “We should respect the opinions of others in America. But that in return means that they not only respect our opinions, they respect what is written in the Constitution.”

The governor told The Washington Post that he doesn’t necessarily change his position on an issue when his family disagrees with him, but he does work on “finding a different way of explaining it, so they can appreciate where I am coming from.”

In early June, Walker said he supports a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban same-sex marriage.

Episcopalians vote to allow gay marriage in churches

Posted July 1st, 2015 by pikapp44

Episcopalians voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, solidifying the church’s embrace of gay rights that began more than a decade ago with the pioneering election of the first openly gay bishop.

The vote came in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal General Convention, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. It passed in the House of Deputies, the voting body of clergy and lay participants at the meeting. The House of Bishops had approved the resolution Tuesday by 129-26 with five abstaining.

The Rev. Brian Baker of Sacramento said the church rule change was the result of a nearly four-decade long conversation that has been difficult and painful for many. Baker, chair of the committee that crafted the changes, said church members have not always been kind to one another but that the dynamic has changed in recent decades.

“We have learned to not only care for, but care about one other,” Baker said. “That mutual care was present in the conversations we had. Some people disagreed, some people disagreed deeply, but we prayed and we listened and we came up with compromises that we believe make room and leave no one behind.”

Baker said the House of Bishops prayed and debated the issue for five hours earlier this week before passing it on to the House of Deputies.

The Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago, a lesbian married to a fellow Episcopal priest, hugged fellow supporters on Wednesday and said, “We’re all included now.”

“For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our congregations now know under the eyes of God and in every single state in this blessed country, they are welcome to receive all the sacraments,” she said.

Jose Luis Mendoza-Barahona of Honduras gave an impassioned speech, saying the new church law goes against the Bible and would create a chasm in the church.

“The fight has not ended, it’s starting,” he said. “Those of us in the church who are loyal followers of Christ are going to remain firm in not recognizing what happened today.”

The vote eliminates gender-specific language from church laws on marriage so that same-sex couples could have religious weddings. Instead of “husband” and “wife,” for example, the new church law will refer to “the couple.” Under the new rules, clergy can decline to perform the ceremonies. The changes were approved 173-27. The deputies also approved a gender-neutral prayer service for marriage on a 184-23 vote.

The measures take effect the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29.

Many dioceses in the New York-based church of nearly 1.9 million members have allowed their priests to perform civil same-sex weddings, using a trial prayer service to bless the couple. Still, the church hadn’t changed its own laws on marriage until Wednesday.

The Episcopal Church joins two other mainline Protestant groups that allowed gay marriage in all their congregations: the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The 3.8-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lets its congregations decide for themselves, and many of them host gay weddings.

The United Methodist Church, by far the largest mainline Protestant church with 12.8 million members, bars gay marriage, although many of its clergy have been officiating at same-sex weddings recently in protest.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. wing of the Anglican Communion, an 80 million-member global fellowship of churches. Ties among Anglicans have been strained since Episcopalians in 2003 elected Bishop Gene Robinson, who lived openly with his male partner, to lead the Diocese of New Hampshire. Many theologically conservative Episcopalians either split off or distanced themselves from the national U.S. church after Robinson’s election.

On the eve of Wednesday’s vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, issued a statement expressing deep concern about the move to change the definition of marriage.

After the Supreme Court ruling last week, many conservative churches, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons, renewed their opposition to gay marriage.

Gay Pride: How The World Turned Into A Rainbow

Posted June 29th, 2015 by pikapp44

Scroll through your Facebook feed and you’ll already see an array of family photos, pouting selfies and delectable dinners. But over the past few of days, there’s also been a bright splash of color as users have been updating their profile pics with a rainbow overlay to advocate gay pride.

The vibrant support comes after a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

And even The White House joined in, posting this time lapse video with the status: “America should be very proud. #LoveWins”.

“Our country was founded on the promise that all people are created equal, and today we took another step towards achieving that promise,” said Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg on his profile.

“I’m so happy for all of my friends and everyone in our community who can finally celebrate their love and be recognized as equal couples under the law. We still have much more to do to achieve full equality for everyone in our community, but we are moving in the right direction.”

To update your profile photo with the colors, simply visit the Facebook “Let’s Celebrate Pride” page, where you will be shown a preview of your photo with the rainbow overlay.

Facebook is not the only tech giant to color the internet. Enter terms such as “gay pride,” “same sex marriage” or “LGBT” into your Google search and a line of bright characters will adorn the top of your screen.

Twitter also totaled the overwhelming number of tweets regarding the Supreme Court’s decision (“6.2 million and counting”), automatically adding rainbow emojis to tweets with the #LoveWins or #Pride hashtags.

You could celebrate on the move too, as taxi app service Uber added color to its car icons when users requested a ride.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple who publicly acknowledged his homosexuality last year, also applauded the ruling on Twitter.

Web browsers across the globe have burst into a rainbow of colour as social media users respond to the news that same-sex marriage has been legalised across the United States.

Thousands have used Facebook’s one-click gay-marriage celebration tool to add the colours of the rainbow gay-pride flag to their profile pictures.

One of the first people to use the tool, called Celebrate Pride, was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who also took to his official page to commend the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Our country was founded on the promise that all people are created equal, and today we took another step towards achieving that promise,” the billionaire tech entrepreneur wrote.

“I’m so happy for all of my friends and everyone in our community who can finally celebrate their love and be recognized as equal couples under the law.”

Meanwhile #LoveWins quickly became the top-trending hashtag worldwide on Twitter, and remained the top hashtag in Australia on Saturday afternoon.

In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court on Friday ruled that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a historic victory.

In the 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority with the four liberal justices. Each of the four conservative justices wrote their own dissent.

Nearly 46 years to the day after a riot at New York’s Stonewall Inn ushered in the modern gay rights movement, the decision could settle one of the major civil rights fights of this era. The language of Kennedy’s opinion spoke eloquently of the most fundamental values of family, love and liberty.

The U.S. is now the 21st country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, including territories. Married same-sex couples will now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples nationwide and will be recognized on official documents such as birth and death certificates.

Hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters flooded the plaza and sidewalk in front of the Court to celebrate the ruling, proudly waving rainbow flags and banners with the Human Rights Campaign’s equal sign, which have come to represent the gay rights movement. In an emotional moment, the supporters sang the National Anthem, clapping wildly after singing that the U.S. is “the land of the free.”

New York City’s landmarks commission has voted to grant official status to the Stonewall Inn, the Greenwich Village bar where resistance to a police raid sparked the modern gay rights movement.

The unanimous vote Tuesday marks the first time a site has been designated as a landmark in the city because of its significance to LGBT history.

Patrons fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969.

The uprising is commemorated in gay pride events every year in New York and around the world.

The Stonewall events were a turning point in the LGBT rights movement and in the nation’s history.