U-C: What I See

Saturday, November 04, 2006

An Op-Ed on Prop 107 in Arizona


Arizona, like many states, is increasingly turning to ballot propositions in our governance - something I have grave concerns about because it tends to reduce complex and nuanced public policy issues to twenty second soundbites on t.v. or yard signs that do nothing to create an informed electorate. This round, we've got 19 of these initiatives. I spent over an hour and a half reading the various proposals and their critiques and justifications, and still found it difficult to sort through them when I went to cast an early ballot last week. One of the most pernicious is Proposition 107, which would change our constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal in our state (it already is), and to deny any marriage-like benefits to all persons who are not married.

I felt strongly enough about this one to write an opinion piece for our local paper, the AZ Daily Star, which ran it in it's electronic version of the paper about a week ago. As it's circulation has widened, I've been asked by several people to share it more broadly through my blog.

So for those of you who are interested, here's my own take on this one - limited to the 500 words allowed by the newspaper. . .

Proposition 107 would explicitly deny any “marriage-like” benefits to persons who are not married, and would constitutionally define marriage as only being available to persons of opposite gender. Like the broader society, the faith community is deeply divided on this issue.

My experience as the highest elected official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) from June of 2004 to June of 2006 gave me a glimpse into the passion and divisiveness of this debate. Though it is clear that there is currently no consensus in our churches to broaden the definition of marriage, our denomination has been clear that we will not become unwitting participants in any movement to isolate gay and lesbian persons as a group, nor will we condone discriminatory practices against the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community from our legislative, executive or judicial branches of government. This is entirely consistent with our denomination’s historic advocacy for women, persons of color, undocumented persons, and those who live with mental or physical disabilities, all of whom also face the possibility of discrimination because of who they are.

I long for the day when all who desire to make a lifelong commitment to one another are able, as I am, to do so within the bonds of the covenant of marriage. Someday, it could happen. After all, the biblical story is full of examples of God’s people being surprised by what God had in mind for them. We Presbyterians believe that God is constantly being revealed to us in ways that challenge, trouble, and occasionally delight us. For that reason, I will continue to be in dialogue with my sisters and brothers with whom I disagree about this matter. As people of faith, all of whom are struggling to be faithful to their understanding of God, we must find respectful ways to wrestle with this and many other issues that divide us.

However, what we must not tolerate are laws motivated by hate or discrimination, or that single out an entire class of people to be treated differently than the rest of us. Prop. 107 would take away domestic partner benefits such as health insurance from public employees. It would remove domestic violence protections from unmarried persons. It makes simple things like the right to visit a loved one in the hospital impossible.

Questions of how marriage is defined will continue to be debated within our faith communities and across our society. In the meantime, let’s assure that our laws embody the best of what our country has always been – a safe haven for those who might be targeted elsewhere because of who they are or what they believe. Let’s honor our country’s history as a place of tolerance, mutual forbearance, care and concern for all members of our communities. Those are values that all of us, both in and out of the church, ought to be able to affirm.

Please, vote “no” on Proposition 107.

Blessings on each of you as you also go to the polls in the next few days.