Will and Erwynn met at church and fell in love. But they had a big problem—“don’t ask, don’t tell.” The unlikely story of the first gay military union.
It’s almost Christmas, and I’m eating lunch with Tech Sgt. Erwynn Umali and his fiance Will Behrens at a Cracker Barrel in New Jersey. Erwynn, 34, is an active-duty serviceman in the Air Force. Will, 35, is a branch manager for a financial firm. There are six months to go until Will and Erwynn get married at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a joint military base in Wrightstown, N.J. It will be the first publicly announced gay civil union or wedding ever to take place on an American military installation. But today is about family, not planning for the big day. With us are Will’s children from a previous marriage, his 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. When the country fried steak and chicken and dumplings arrive, everyone joins hands in prayer. Will thanks God for our food and prays that I’ll make it home safely. We say amen and eat.
Little about the couple’s biographies would suggest that they would become gay rights trailblazers or find themselves on the progressive side of a culture war. Will was born outside of Chicago in 1976. His mother was a teacher. His father, a marine-turned-fundamentalist-minister, spent most of the year on the road through his work with Fairhaven Baptist church in Chesterton, Ind. Will’s father was its youth pastor and vice president of the church’s small Christian college.
Fairhaven Baptist was founded by Dr. Roger Voegtlin, a firm believer in corporal punishment. Will recalls Dr. Voegtlin giving spanking demonstrations and instructions during church. Will’s parents followed Dr. Voegtlin’s example, imposing strict discipline on Will and his three siblings. Will ran away from home twice, in fifth and sixth grade, because he was so fearful of punishment from his father.
This afternoon the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church turned its attention to same-sex relationships, specifically whether or not to allow civil partnerships to be registered in United Reformed Church premises. During an hour-long debate both sides of the argument were heard, but the Assembly agreed the resolution (that local churches were able to take a decision on whether to allow registrations to take place in there buildings) and in so doing has become the first mainstream Christian denomination to allow same-sex partners to register their civil partnership in church.
This resolution takes effect immediately and enables local United Reformed Churches in England and Wales to consider whether they wish to allow civil partnerships to be registered on their premises (i.e. for the legal formalities, as well as the religious ceremony, to take place in church). Once a church has decided to take this step, it will need to ask its trustees to apply to the superintendent registrar of the relevant local authority to become registered as an approved venue.
The decision about applying to register as a legal place for civil partnerships will be in the hands of each local church meeting; the denomination cannot estimate how many of its churches will take advantage of this resolution. However, several of its churches have made it known that they will be seeking registration and are expected to be amongst the first wave of early adopters.
One such is City United Reformed Church in Cardiff; its minister, The Revd Adrian Bulley said: “For many years this church has been hosting services of blessing for those who have entered a civil partnership. How sad that these couples have had to go through two ceremonies to enable their union to be blessed by God in the context of prayer and worship. How wonderful that General Assembly has now opened the door and enabled those local churches that wish to do so, to register their premises in order that same-sex couples may have a single ceremony – both religious and legal – to mark their commitment to each other. This is a very welcome decision, finally enabling the Church to offer to same sex-couples what heterosexual couples have for so long taken for granted.”
– more at United Reformed Church.
Gay couple become first in Britain to hold civil partnership ceremony in a church
A gay couple are thought to have become the first in the UK to hold a civil partnership ceremony in a church building.
Kieran Bohan and Warren Hartley made a commitment to each other at the Ullet Road Unitarian Church, in Liverpool, last month and are currently enjoying their honeymoon.
The couple, who described the event as a ‘milestone for equality’, only received council approval that the church could register civil partnerships a week before their big day.
Plans to allow religious buildings to host civil ceremonies were announced last February but the legislation was only implemented in December after public consultation.
Kieran, 41, who runs a youth group, said: ‘The pace of change is extraordinarily remarkable, but there is still work to be done.
Is full marriage equality on the way for Ireland? The signs are encouraging:
“Equal marriage advocates have welcomed a poll which puts public support for allowing gay couples to marry at 73%.
The poll, by Red C, showed nearly three quarters of those asked said they would agree with the statement: “Same sex marriage should be allowed in the Constitution”.
The results were presented to Ireland’s Oireachtas yesterday in a report prepared for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the last Constitutional referendum.
Kieran Rose, Chair of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said: “The poll confirms the openness of Irish people and their support for further critically important progress to achieving equality for lesbian and gay people.”
Meanwhile, a powerful opinion piece at the Irish Examiner says unequivocally that civil partnerships are no longer enough: “It’s time!”
CIVIL partnerships were always a first step, not a full stop, but it is remarkable the way public opinion has now swung so rapidly behind the move to gay-marriage equality.
The latest poll on the subject shows an overwhelming 73% back amending the Constitution to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.
While civil partnerships offer some guarantees for same-sex couples, such as stopping homophobic relatives barring lifelong partners from their loved one’s death bed, in practice it cements a status as second-class citizens within a society in which all should be equal.
The change to marriage equality is about the State and its responsibility to recognise its citizens as equals.
This is about people who want to have their lifelong emotional commitment to one another recognised by the State that they fund as taxpayers.
If South Africa can do it, there is no reason Ireland cannot follow Canada and Belgium, to name but two others, and let same-sex couples have the civil rights to which they are entitled.
Technically, Argentina is the only Latin American country with legislation to recognize same-sex marriages, but in Brazil, the courts have in effect provided for full marriage equality without legislative approval. The Supreme Court has previously confirmed that same-couples have the right to legal recognition for civil unions, and some state courts have confirmed that these civil unions may be converted into full marriages. In a new decision, the Supreme Court has confirmed this.
In June, a state court judge ruled that two men could legally change their civil union into a full marriage.
It was in May that Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that gay civil unions could be recognized. But the top court stopped short of recognizing full marriages.
Since then, several couples have petitioned to have their civil unions recognized as full marriages. Some of those have been approved at lower courts, others blocked.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Supreme Appeals Court overturned two lower court’s ruling against the women.