Legislative Testimony

Testimony in support of the Marriage Bill, H 3677, before the Massachusetts House
23 October 2003

To: Honorable Chairpersons, members of the Judiciary Committee, and members of the General Court

I speak in support of the Marriage Bill, H 3677. Simply as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I would urge you to approve this bill, ending discrimination based on gender and granting same-gender couples the civil rights and responsibilities of marriage.

But I speak to you today as a member of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). As a Quaker, I am no stranger to the differences between civil law and religious practice. Mary Dyer, a Quaker whose statue stands in front of this building, was hanged by the authorities on Boston Common in 1660. She was a martyr for religious freedom. Her statue should stand as a warning against the perils of allowing religious practice, no matter how large the majority, to dictate civil practice for all.

Quakers today are not being hanged, but we still seek equal treatment before the law. Many Quaker congregations take the relationships of same-gender couples under their care, which is to say that we authorize and oversee the marriage ceremony and commit to providing pastoral care to the marriage. My own congregation, Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting, which meets only blocks away, has for over 15 years recognized marriages of its members without regard to gender. In April 1988 the Meeting officially stated that:

We, the members and attenders of Beacon Hill Monthly Meeting, affirm our belief in that of God in every person. Furthermore, we attest that this belief embraces all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

Beacon Hill affirms that all couples, including those of the same sex, have equal opportunity to be married within the framework of the meeting process. The love between these couples, as it grows, will enrich their relationship, the Meeting, and the world at large. The Meeting is committed to supporting these couples according to their needs.

Beacon Hill acknowledges the Certificate of Marriage signed by the couple and those present at the ceremony as the witness of Friends to the couple’s spiritual union. Mindful that only the heterosexual couples among us currently have the right to legally sanctioned marriage and its privileges, the Meeting asks Friends, and particularly couples preparing for marriage, to examine how best to respond and bear witness to the inequalities still present in the system.

Massachusetts, of course, long ago ceased to persecute Quakers, and statutes regarding “procedure to perform (solemnize) marriage” include not only provisions for clergy of various denominations and civil authorities, but this clause:

a marriage maybe solemnized in a regular or special meeting for worship conducted by or under the oversight of a Friends or Quaker Monthly Meeting in accordance with the usage of their Society.

Thus, for some couples whose marriages have been allowed by Beacon Hill Meeting, our action is sufficient evidence for the state to extend the responsibilities and benefits of marriage to the couple. For other couples, equally in love, equally faithful to one another, equally contributing to our community and to civic life, equally examined by our careful marriage process, our action has no legal effect. How can the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allow us to act as agents of the state in marrying opposite-gender couples and then disregard our careful religious discernment concerning same-gender couples?

If religious definitions of marriage are to continue influencing the civil definition of marriage, if the state is to continue allowing religious officials to act as agents of the state in conducting marriages, then the state must not discriminate between different and even conflicting religious practices. In this case, I urge you to extend the same civil rights and responsibilities to all the couples married under the care of Beacon Hill Meeting by approving bill 3677.

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