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Unitarian Universalists Witness for Peace, Economic Justice, and Marriage Equality During 2006 Election Season
The 2006 midterm elections blew winds of change through the U.S. Congress and the President's Cabinet, but for people of faith across the country, the elections were about issues of human dignity and civility. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) responded to the call for action and witness as they worked for peace, marriage equality (and against so-called "Defense of Marriage" state amendments), and worker justice in the days leading up to the election.
While the results weren't always what they hoped for, members of congregations involved in social witness on key issues made their voices heard in the media and in their communities while finding new synergies with other Unitarian Universalist congregations in their states.
In Colorado, Unitarian Universalist congregations worked to support a change in the minimum wage by backing Amendment 42. Rev. Jann Halloran, minister of the Prairie UU Church in Aurora, Colorado co-authored an Op-Ed piece which ran in the Denver Post speaking to the merits of the Amendment: "So often in life, decisions seem to be either economically or morally right, but not both. Amendment 42 is one of those rare occasions when both those goals unite in a single action. Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for Colorado 's economy, and it is the right thing to do for Coloradans who work hard to support their families with dignity."
Minimum wage ballot initiatives were put to a vote in six states and won in all of them. UUs were also active in support of the initiatives in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. The victories achieved in support of economic justice have brought new energy to the Let Justice Roll campaign, of which the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a participant.
Several UU congregations have become involved in an ongoing Declaration of Peace campaign, which seeks a nonviolent end to the war in Iraq. The Declaration of Peace campaign was endorsed at the 2006 General Assembly. Among those were the UU Fellowship of Bremerton, Washington, clergy and lay leaders from the greater Washington, DC, area, and the UU Church of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Dozens of UU congregations are continuing to show two excellent films on Iraq, "The Ground Truth" and "Iraq for Sale," are utilizing the Citizens Tool Kit from Win Without War, and the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy's Resource on Welcoming Veterans and Military Families in our Congregations.
UU Congregations in states where so-called "Defense of Marriage Amendments" appeared on the ballot were very active in working to educate the public and their legislators to the Unitarian Universalist Association's position in support of equal marriage.
State ballot amendments on marriage were voted on in nine states, and eight of the amendments passed—but the amendment on the ballot in Arizona (Proposition 107) failed—thanks to strong advocacy work by interfaith coalitions and public opposition by elder advocacy groups. All major newspapers in the state opposed the legislation, and UU congregations were also active in their advocacy against Prop 107.
In South Carolina, several Unitarian Universalist congregations went on record in opposing the state's constitutional amendment, and congregations in Beaufort, Charleston , Columbia, Greenville, Hilton Head, and Spartanburg joined a coalition of organizations working to defeat the legislation. The Unitarian Church in Charleston screened The Color of Fear 3 (a documentary exploring the fears, stereotypes, and moral issues that are dividing our country). The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbia was featured in an article on The State for their resolution against the amendment, saying it "will jeopardize the physical, emotional, legal and financial well being of same-sex couples and their children."
In Tennessee, the Oak Ridge and Westside (Knoxville) congregations took out ads to try and educate the electorate around the proposed constitutional amendment, while the Tennessee Valley (Knoxville) and Nashville congregations were active in local election organizing and education efforts. In Colorado, the Lafayette congregation took out an advertisement in the community's local voter registration guide.
In Beaufort County, the only opposition to the amendment came from the fifty-member Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort with Rev. Nan White providing leadership for her small congregation.
In Wisconsin, UUs witnessed with dedication against the proposed marriage amendment. The First Unitarian Society, based in Madison, expressed its opposition with a banner hung in front of their church.
In Virginia, the fight against the DOMA was ferocious, and UU congregations have been in the forefront of the opposition for years.
In Norfolk, UU Will Frank was featured in the local paper's coverage of grass roots opposition to the ballot amendment. "He may be a Unitarian, but on a sun-drenched autumn Saturday, Willard C. Frank Jr. carried a message door to door in Norfolk 's Colonial Place neighborhood with an evangelical's conviction" reported Steven Vegh in the Norfolk Pilot. The story continues, "Have you heard about the marriage amendment?" asked Frank, an active member of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk. "We think this is very discriminatory and breaks up families." Through screen doors and on front stoops, he encouraged residents to "consider voting 'No.'"
The Bull Run Unitarian Universalists were also active. Their banner promoting marriage equality was stolen in the days leading up to the election, and members of the congregation were then interviewed in a local NPR affiliate's coverage of opposition to the marriage amendment.
In Charlottesville, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church—Unitarian Universalist voted in August to oppose the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution. Members of the church's Gay-Straight Alliance worked tirelessly to ensure that the issue was kept front and center in the congregation and the community. In late September, the congregation hosted a Day of Advocacy called "No, No, A Million Votes NO!" to provide training and a rallying point for opponents to the amendment. As one member of the congregation said, "I need you to speak in opposition to this amendment because I need you to feel the power that belongs to being an ally. I want you to enjoy the thrill of changing minds and hearts. You actually know gay and lesbian couples. We've sat in church with you, served on committees here, taught your children, furnished and enjoyed auction dinners, and attended your weddings and memorial services. And you have attended ours. Our kids have played with your kids. You know that the rhetoric about gays and lesbians and our alleged inability to remain faithful is simply a distraction from the utter lack of need and sheer inequity of this amendment."
The Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, co-minister of the Charlottesville congregation said, "The effort began what the church expects to be an on-going commitment as many members found their voice in witness."
In Massachusetts, marriage wasn't on the state ballot, but a Constitutional Convention which convened two days after the election to consider whether the state's equal marriage law should be put to a popular vote was recessed by legislators without a vote on the matter. The Constitutional Convention will reconvene on January 2, 2007, the final day of the current legislative term. This legislative action will likely result in the defeat of efforts to put equal marriage on the state ballot in 2008.
In some congregations and states, advocacy wasn't focused on a ballot amendment but on civil discourse. In Iowa, Rev. Roger Butts, minister of the Unitarian Church of Davenport, joined an interfaith effort to denounce negative political campaign advertising. The congregation joined in issuing an interfaith plea for positive campaigns and received media coverage for their effort. A group of forty-five students from Iowa City 's local high school also became involved in the election when they produced a fifteen-minute video highlighting the views of the state's second congressional and gubernatorial candidates and decrying negative campaigning.
The California-based UU Legislative Ministry (UULM) was also involved in raising the awareness of the electorate. UULM Director Rev. Lindi Ramsden encouraged Unitarian Universalists to find out which organizations were funding ballot initiatives, and the organization offered a chart comparing the recommendations of the UULM Action Network, the ACLU, Chamber of Commerce, California Labor Federation, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, Council of Churches and the Friends Committee on Legislation to help inform voter decision making.
The 2006 elections brought sweeping change to the U.S. Throughout the country, UUs were part of that change, deeply engaged in educating, organizing, and advocating for public policies that uphold Unitarian Universalist values.
For further information:
- "Why Raise the Minimum Wage?" on the UU Service Committee blog, written by Johanna Chao Rittenberg
- Watch Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, minister of Bull Run Unitarian Universalists, in a Washington Post video interview on the proposed Virginia ballot amendment.