By Bernadette Cahill
Two local ministers representing congregations on opposite sides of the High Country’s increasingly heated debate on the Marriage Protection Amendment – also known as Amendment One – have called on compassion in support of their positions.
The Reverend Bud Russell, Minister of Education and Administration at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, in a telephone interview with the High Country Press, said that while supporters of the amendment disagree with those opposing it, they “follow Jesus’ example. He was compassionate. We can be passionate, but we don’t need to be extreme, or violent or rude or insulting. That’s not what scripture would have us do.”
The Reverend Shelly Wilson, pastor of the United Church of Christ, Vilas, also in a telephone interview said that the proposal prompts “a call to compassion, inclusion, living lives of justice and peace. If I claim to be a person of faith and treat others in a way that is not consistent with that, then I am hypocritical. I am not living by the golden rule. All churches have a version [of the rule] to treat others the way I would want to be treated. That is why our church is taking this stand.”
Traditional families from Wilson’s congregation have been appearing in a series of local ads opposing the amendment.
Russell said that proponents of the amendment support it because they “have a Biblical world view that is the literal truth…that is still applicable today. Its view of marriage between one man and one woman goes back to the Book of Genesis.”
Russell’s Mt. Vernon Baptist Church was one of the represented organizations at the Vote For Marriage NC grassroots rally at the Watauga High School last Tuesday in support of the amendment.
Support of State’s Constitution
Russell added that his congregation supports the state’s constitution via the amendment because the institution of marriage defined in the laws is currently not supported by the constitution.
North Carolina General Statute § 51-1 already defines marriage traditionally and denies recognition to “marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender…”
Russell said that in a number of states with statutory bans on same-sex marriage, these bans have been overturned by the courts and this amendment is because of concern that the same thing could happen here.
He said that late last year in Asheville, same-sex couples attempted to obtain marriage licenses and in Guilford County the Registrar of Deeds filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the marriage laws unconstitutional because they don’t allow same-sex marriage.
“Either the people are going to decide [this issue] as a whole or we are going to leave it in the hands of the judges,” Russell said. “The constitution of the state says ‘we the people’ ofNorth Carolina…. It is our task to decide in North Carolina…the voters need an opportunity to decide and not let one person [make the decision]…It’s a lot of weight to be put on one person.”
Concern for Individual Rights
The marriage amendment states, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”
But,Wilsonsaid, “Anyone who doesn’t fit that category will be considered a second-class citizen…certain persons in our community would be excluded. Excluding and marginalizing is not a way for us to go.”
She is particularly concerned that the amendment picks out a segment of the population and says to them that they and their personal identity, they and their family and they and their children do not get equal treatment under the law.
“When a minority in a citizenry begins to be targeted, when the rights of some are jeopardized, then the rights of all are jeopardized,” she said.
The potential reach and implications of the amendment are also a major concern,Wilsonsaid. There is no way of predicting how it could affect non-traditional couples and their families if they are excluded from the same protections that traditional marriages get from the laws of the state.
She cited potential effects on child custody under the proposed new state fundamental law and the fact that businesses might be prevented from extending to non-traditional couples the same benefits traditional families can receive.
“We do not believe that discrimination should be codified in our state constitution,” Wilson said.
The ads from the families of theUnitedChurchcongregation have come about because “prayer and practice go hand in hand. Faith without works is dead,” Wilson said. “Churches have a moral obligation as a matter of faith and policy to speak on behalf of those marginalized.”
She said that a vote against the amendment in the May 8 primary is a matter of Christianity and compassion for people of faith.
But Russell, who takes the opposite view, said, “I am doing my best not to ‘throw rocks’ at people in our community. They have a right to their opinion, [but] the Bible is our standard. We believe it to be true. We embrace people who believe differently…but that doesn’t say we necessarily agree with them. We agree to disagree.
“We have an opportunity to vote and both sides need to vote [according to] their convictions and we just have to see how it comes out,” Russell said.
“I would plead with our community to know the facts and understand them, and the implications [of the amendment], not just for a particular segment, but for all,” saidWilson, adding that the
Vilas congregation’s website has information that can help voters inform themselves and make their own decision according to their own conscience.