Religious leaders react to decision

Clarification: In the article on June 26 about local clergy’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, Rabbi Scott Sperling expressed only his own personal views. He was not seeking to represent Beth El Congregation as a whole.

By Kim Walter

Wednesday morning’s historic ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act had a visible impact across the country, and also was felt in the Shenandoah Valley.

The 5-4 Supreme Court vote invalidated the part of DOMA that kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and retirement benefits.

A news release from the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli stated that his office will “continue to defend challenges to the constitution and the laws of Virginia.”

“Virginia has followed the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for more than 400 years, and Virginians voted overwhelmingly to add this traditional definition to their constitution,” the release states. “Today, the court’s two decisions on marriage make clear that the rulings have no effect on the Virginia Marriage Amendment or to any other Virginia law related to marriage.”

The second decision by the high court left in place a trial court’s decision that California’s Proposition 8 – that state’s gay marriage ban – is unconstitutional.

It is statements like Cuccinelli’s that left Rabbi Scott Sperling of Beth El Congregation in Winchester feeling there is more work to do.

Sperling said that one fundamental element of the Union for Reform Judaism, of which he belongs, is equality for all.

“From my perspective, humans are created in the image of the divine, and as such they should all receive equal treatment before the law and equal opportunity,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “Just as getting to this point has taken so long, my expectation is that we have a long struggle ahead to gain full equality.”

Sperling said he preferred that the decision made Wednesday morning would’ve been “much broader,” but given the circumstances of the presented cases, he was happy with the outcome. He said the decision also still leaves room for those who are opposed to same-sex marriage to continue in their beliefs.

According to Sperling, people are still able to stick by the “traditional definition of marriage,” though he questioned the creation of that definition.

“You mean the biblical patriarchs who had seven, eight wives?” he said when asked about the definition pertaining to marriage between one man and one woman. “To someone who is unhappy about this decision, I would say, ‘don’t marry someone of your same sex.'”

“If that’s of your faith, then don’t officiate a same-sex wedding.”

The Rev. Paul Britner of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley in Stephens City had similar feelings on the issue. His church allows a local chapter of PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — to meet in its building.

“This is a great day for America,” he said Wednesday. “But a reminder needs to be made – this doesn’t apply in Virginia.”

While Britner supports celebrating the decision, he said he can’t forget that “a majority of Americans are still left out.”

He also said the invalidation of DOMA truly impacts those in same-sex relationships, and shouldn’t make opponents of same-sex marriage angry.

“Nowhere does it say that individuals have to accept gay marriage,” he said. “This is about honoring due process of law. You don’t have to change your opinion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia released a statement celebrating the decision.

“The ACLU is gratified that the Court recognizes that there is no valid reason for the federal government to treat legally married couples differently based on the sexual orientation of the couple,” it says.

Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, also released a statement calling the vote a “truly historic victory and a step forward … for loving, married same-sex couples and their families.”

“With this decision, we are moving forward to a time when every person will have the freedom to marry the person they love and to have that marriage accorded the same legal status regardless of who they are,” she said.

A number of officials from local Catholic, Methodist, and Southern Baptist churches declined to comment on the issue, citing not knowing enough about the vote or DOMA as the reason.

The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, of which several area churches are affiliated, released a statement on Wednesday’s vote.

“The SBC of Virginia is disappointed in today’s decision. But we continue to pray for God’s blessing on our nation and for God’s people to proclaim his good news which is the Gospel,” the release states.

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-10) was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday evening.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com