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Spotlight Report

Clergy coalition offers support for same-sex marriages

By Nicholas Zamiska, Globe Correspondent, 6/6/2003

To counter the Catholic Church's latest initiative opposing same-sex marriage, a coalition of clergy from a variety of faiths said yesterday that more than 350 clergy statewide support gay unions.

The announcement came about a week after the four Catholic bishops in Massachusetts wrote a letter urging priests in the state to remind their parishes that the church opposes same-sex marriages.

''Everyone on this list is in agreement that the right of gay and lesbian couples is a matter of civil, and not religious, law,'' said Rabbi Devon Lerner, cochairwoman of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group for gay marriages that began compiling the list in 1998.

''We see how harmful it is to gay and lesbian families not to have the rights of civil marriage,'' she said, citing issues such as inheritance or the right to visit a partner at a hospital.

Lerner was joined by nearly 20 religious leaders from a Reform Jewish congregation and several Protestant denominations, among others, who declared their support for same-gender marriage and said any law sanctioning the practice would not threaten the religious practices of the Roman Catholic Church or any religion.

In response, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said, ''That might be true if the Catholic Church existed within a vacuum instead of society as a whole.''

Coyne said the bishops' letter was an attempt ''to clarify and make clear the church's teaching'' after three Catholic priests spoke out in opposition of a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages in Massachusetts. He said there was some confusion about the church's position among state legislators, who will probably vote this summer on the proposed amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.

If a majority of the House and Senate approve the amendment, a second successive majority of the 200 elected officials would be required to support it in order for it to be placed on the state election ballot.

The Supreme Judicial Court is considering whether the state constitution allows gay marriage. The case before the SJC involves seven same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses and filed a lawsuit. The court's decision is expected later this year.

Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel of Boston, a reform congregation that has been performing same-sex ceremonies for years, said the proposed amendment ''is no more in the interest of society to deny legal status to same-gender marriages than it would be to abolish heterosexual marriage.''

Coalition leaders, speaking yesterday afternoon at the downtown headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said their goal was to let the public know that not all religious communities oppose gay marriages.

''The citizens of Massachusetts and our state legislators need to know that there are many religious people, from many religious traditions in our state, who support the right of same-sex couples to marry,'' said the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a Boston-based denomination with 225,000 members nationally.

Countering national trends, Massachusetts residents, by a slim majority, say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, according to a recent Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll. In the survey, 50 percent supported legalizing gay marriages, while 44 percent said they oppose it.

Coyne said that the teaching of the Catholic Church is ''not based on opinion polls.''

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 6/6/2003.
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