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Church Holds Ceremony for Same-Sex Couples

More than three dozen couples exchange vows at Arlington’s Unitarian Universalist church.

At the end of a week that saw legislators in Richmond give their blessing to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Patricia Joyner and Rebecca Lovelace cemented their five-year relationship by publicly exchanging vows for the first time.

The couple were joined by more than 50 same-sex partners and heterosexual couples who reaffirmed their commitment to each other during an emotional ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington last Sunday.

The event was a bold showing of support for marriage equality at a time when legislators are posed to pass a bill that would not only prohibit gay marriage but ban civil unions and potentially jeopardize contractual agreements between individuals of the same sex.

“Unfortunately, this is as close as we are going to come to getting married in Virginia,” said Lovelace, an Alexandria resident who joined the church last year with Joyner, her partner of five years. “But it feels really good to have so much support from our friends, family and church.”

The House of Delegates approved the amendment, HB 101, 76 to 20 earlier this month, and the Senate will be voting on it soon. Last year the amendment passed both houses. Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) has signaled his support for the bill, and if the amendment is passed, it will be placed before voters in a November referendum.

Critics of the amendment contend its language is overly restrictive and may have ramifications beyond its original intent.

“We already have three laws that disallow same-gender marriage and civil unions, and there is no reason to be writing this into the constitution, except some people want to make a political point,” Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49), who is openly gay, said in a phone interview from his Richmond office.

Church officials condemned the proposed amendment for going far beyond banning same-sex marriages.

“To put it bluntly, this proposed constitutional amendment is mean-spirited, arises out of political maneuvering and fuels ungrounded fear and bigotry,” said Rev. Richard Nugent, during his sermon at the Unitarian Univeralist Church. “To codify discrimination based on sexual orientation is an evil which undoubtedly one day will be declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.”

MORE THAN 400 people attended the church’s late-morning service, and most of them stayed to witness the vow ceremony, which included a performance by the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington.

Within the Unitarian Universalist church, “holy union” ceremonies for same-sex couples have been conducted since the 1970s, and the Arlington branch voted to support marriage equality during its 2004 annual meeting.

Many of those in attendance expressed concern that the constitutional amendment will have broad unintended consequences.

Karen Murphy, who exchanged vows with her partner of three years, Jennifer Daniels, said she fears same-sex couples may no longer be able to pass on inheritance to their partners and may be denied hospital visitation rights.

County Board member Jay Fisette, who attends services regularly at the church and is gay, told the crowd that homosexuals in Virginia have no choice but to be active in politics so that their voices are heard.

Fisette, an ardent critic of the proposed constitutional amendment, said he was disappointed that the measure would be so far-reaching.

“Our state has often been slow to understand and slow to shed its fear,” Fisette said during the ceremony.

Several of those participating in the ceremony were critical of the new governor and Democratic lawmakers for supporting what they feel is an overly restrictive law.

“This is somewhat bittersweet, especially given that the governor I just voted for said he would sign this,” Daniels said.