Thursday, September 13, 2007

More briefs filed in marriage case | Rhode Island news | Rhode Island news | | The Providence Journal

More briefs filed in marriage case Rhode Island news Rhode Island news The Providence Journal

More briefs filed in marriage case
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
By Edward FitzpatrickJournal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Two religious groups and 28 clergy members are telling the state Supreme Court that not all religious leaders in Rhode Island oppose same-sex marriage or the divorce that two Providence women, who married in Massachusetts, are now seeking in Family Court.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and others have filed friend-of-the-court briefs warning of consequences they say would result if the marriage between Margaret R. Chambers and Cassandra B. Ormiston is recognized for the purpose of granting them a divorce.
Now, local branches of the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Society are joining various clergy members in a legal brief that says, “Bishop Tobin and the Becket Fund do not represent the only faith-based position on this matter. On the contrary, within Rhode Island’s religious communities, many support granting full respect and recognition to the committed relationships of same-sex couples.”
These clergy members had not weighed in during two previous rounds of legal briefs, but in an order issued Monday, the Supreme Court said it would nonetheless accept the brief they filed Aug. 31, which was the deadline for the third round of briefs.
In the order, the Supreme Court rejected requests from those who have written legal briefs and asked to take part in arguments before the high court on Oct. 9.
Courts spokesman Craig N. Berke said it is unusual — but not unheard of — for the court to allow friends of the court to take part in oral arguments. He said the court is still considering a request from Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch’s office to take part in those arguments. The Oct. 9 hearing will include lawyers for Chambers and Ormiston, who agree on the basic issue before the court.
Chambers and Ormiston married in Fall River in May 2004, shortly after Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Their case marks the first time any of the same-sex couples married in Massachusetts have sought a divorce in another state.
The Supreme Court invited public officials and other interested parties to file friend-of-the court briefs. The court received 16 briefs in the first round, six in the second round, and another five in the third round.
The latest brief was signed by Providence lawyer Susan Perkins and submitted on behalf of 28 clergy members — ranging alphabetically from the Rev. Jonathan Almond, pastor of the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, to the Rev. William P. Zelazny, district executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The Rev. Eugene T. Dyszlewski, pastor of the Riverside Congregational United Church of Christ and chairman of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, said the clergy members decided to weigh in after seeing the arguments made in earlier legal briefs.
“Our faith and our belief in religious freedom would not allow us to stay silent in this case,” Mr. Dyszlewski said yesterday. “I am proud to stand with other faith leaders to represent the diversity of religious views on the issue of marriage, and to present the court with a balanced perspective from various faith traditions.”
Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the country, with “Catholic adherents” making up 51.7 percent of the population, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
During the first round, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, filed a brief saying, “The recognition of same-sex relationships as ‘marriages’ would have profound, radical consequences.”
For example, the brief said, “If a court were to rule that either the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Rhode Island requires that organs of government in the state treat same-sex relationships as ‘marriages,’ its decision would significantly inhibit the role of any citizen and particularly the role of any religious leader to speak publicly and cogently for a different view. It would virtually end debate.”
The Becket Fund, an interfaith public-interest law firm based in Washington, D.C., filed a brief saying religious organizations could face civil suits if they refuse to treat legally married same-sex couples “as morally equivalent to traditionally married men and women.”
For example, religious organizations could soon face situations in which an employee legally marries someone of the same gender, the Becket Fund said. “These employers may well terminate their relationship with employees out of a desire to stay faithful to their institution’s moral and religious teachings, and to make clear that the institution does not condone certain behavior,” the brief said. “Terminated persons, in turn, might sue under employment anti-discrimination statutes, using a variety of theories such as discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation, or marital status.”
In their brief, the 28 clergy members and two religious groups said no Supreme Court ruling can force any religious groups or individuals to change their views on same-sex marriages. And they disputed the idea that “recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples will somehow infringe [on] the religious freedom of faith communities and institutions.”
“Such suggestions amount to bald fear mongering in light of existing legal principles, at both constitutional and statutory levels, designed to address any potential conflicts between civil laws and a religious community’s practices,” the brief said. “The lawsuits and restrictions about which these [friends of the court] warn have, in most instances, nothing to do with marriage regulation and more to do with long-standing objections to the legal protections extended to gay and lesbian citizens in society at large.”

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