Never Going Back: The Fight for Marriage Equality

DSC07431“The only reason they [gays and lesbians] want to be legally married is that they want money, money, money.  They want the federal, state and county money that has been set aside for a man and female…They should not be allowed to have it.  Marriage is only between a man and a woman,” says Sandra Osterloh of Imperial, Mo. in the March 28th edition of the Arnold-Imperial Leader.

The United States Supreme Court began hearing arguments this week on one of the most divisive issues in America today, and is expected to rule within the next year, regarding the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, the Defense of Marriage Act, and same-sex marriage.

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Legislation known as DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and limits federal marriage benefits and inter-state recognition to opposite-sex couples.  Proposition 8, a ballot referendum passed by popular vote in 2008, reversed the California Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage.  Both pieces of legislation have been highly controversial and the issue of same-sex marriage is one of the most polarizing in the country, particularly among religious communities.

IMG_0135Rev. Betsy Happel of the Kirkwood United Church of Christ said, “Marriage is a property issue.  People who look at legal marriage and think that that’s a moral thing I think are misguided.  When marriage became an institution in our society, women and children were property – back then, this wasn’t about love; this was all about property.”

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The movement toward marriage equality is about several key components.  The major focus before the Supreme Court this week is the right for same-sex couples to be married.  The other, as Rev. Happel suggested, is about property and spousal privilege.

Happel, the Pastor of a church that prides itself on being welcoming, progressive, and relevant said, “In April of 2007, this congregation voted to become open and affirming – Being a pastor who believes that every child is created perfectly and is loved by God, and that everybody has the right to be who they were created to be, authentically, I believe that two people, whether they are same gendered or different gendered, have the right to be in a union that is legally ratified in the United States, and I believe everything that was initiated by Proposition 8 and DOMA is antithetical to that.”

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Despite being a progressive religious voice, Rev. Happel admitted that several larger churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Mormon Church, are speaking out against marriage equality and that voices like hers have a more difficult path to travel.

When asked how scripture was being used in the battle against marriage equality, Happel said, “The main divisive issue among Christians today in our country is how to interpret The Bible.  There are two basic camps – one camp is to interpret it literally, and the other camp is to interpret it as profoundly true, but not literally true.”


“When scripture in the Old Testament was written, it was meant to oppress women and people who did not follow the religious laws of that time.  People who are fearful of others, who are different from them, are using this scripture that was written in a totally different context, to support their argument that there should not be same-gender relationships.”

In 2010, KUCC announced three same-sex ceremonies would take place, the first of which was on April 16, 2011, over which Rev. Happel presided. Happel said there were two reactions, “When that happened [the announcement], we had a couple of family units leave the church.  The second reaction, what happened that day, was amazing and transformative – the spirit of the sanctuary changed that afternoon – and I’ll forever be grateful to them [the congregation] for that.”

“My attitude has always been – if somebody is not supportive of all walks of life, and all sexual orientations – that’s okay, I send you off with our blessing – we’re not going to apologize for it – and we have grown so much because of that, as a congregation.  So we’ve lost a few people, but we’ve taken in so many more.”

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Finally, Happel frowned upon the recent Boy Scouts of America controversy and fears that the Supreme Court may, like the Boy Scouts, table the issue for a period of time.  But she’s hopeful that American sentiment, and “poignant, intellectual, and classy” media (NBC’s The New Normal) that conveys these sentiments, will shine through.  She said, “I think we are at a watershed moment – we’re riding the crest of a wave, and the momentum in the last year and a half has really changed – and we’re never going back.”