Center to host breakfast for marriage equality

As organizations around the country kick off events and rallies to commemorate National Freedom to Marry Day Feb. 12, the William Way LGBT Community Center will do its own part to raise awareness about marriage equality, looking at the issue from a faith-based perspective.

The center’s Interfaith Breakfast, which begins at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 12, will bring together faith leaders from across the country with local clergy and lay people to discuss how the LGBT and faith communities can effectively respond to the call for marriage equality.

The breakfast, which will be held in the Mark Segal Grand Ballroom of the center, 1315 Spruce St., will feature a kosher buffet-style meal with vegetarian options.

The event was coordinated in part by the center’s Out and Faithful Committee, which oversees the organization’s religious programming.

Candice Thompson, director of center services at William Way, said the group began planning for the event in September, and it was further propelled by the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage in the state.

“When we were brainstorming events for the 2009 calendar, looking at the center’s recurring spiritual programming and what other organizations were offering, we saw a real need for a networking event geared toward the over 100 welcoming faith communities in the Philadelphia area,” Thompson said. “Our goal was to plan an event that was inclusive, substantive and timely, and we knew it had to be an event that allowed these welcoming faith communities an opportunity to dialogue and of course [to] eat food, so we decided to host a prayer breakfast. In the south in particular, prayer breakfasts have had a long tradition of bringing faith communities together for honest dialogue so we decided to use that structure to create a powerful, welcoming event.”

Thompson said committee member the Rev. Karla Fleishman of Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church in Glen Mills, who will give the opening prayer, suggested that the event coincide with National Freedom to Marry Day, which was conceived by Lambda Legal in 1999.

“Marriage equality is particularly relevant to faith communities because they are the organizations who are oftentimes asked to perform the ceremonies,” Thompson said. “It is so important that they make the right decisions for their LGBT congregants to support full marriage equality and LGBT civil rights.”

The center enlisted Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith program at the Human Rights Campaign and the former program director at Freedom to Marry, as the event’s keynote speaker.

Knox said he will address the “spiritual movement for marriage equality that is manifesting nationwide” and how local faith communities can support the progression of this movement.

Knox noted that leaders of the marriage-equality movement have already done the legwork of identifying and uniting faith leaders who support the cause but that they must now concentrate on educating those who are not yet committed to the idea of same-sex marriage.

“The primary thing is to see marriage equality as the pastoral issue that it is,” Knox said. “We have done a really good job of organizing all the people on the list who agree with us that this is a basic issue of civil rights and that marriage should be available to everyone for the same reason all civil rights are available to everyone. That work is largely done.”

Knox continued, “Now our work is to convince people in the moveable middle that they should support marriage equality, that civil unions are separate but unequal and that marriage is the only thing the government can provide that supports families equally and brings benefits and protections that we need. When religious leaders get out of the political thinking and get back to what they’re good at, telling stories of their parishioners and talking about the real needs of people, you can move the middle in really significant ways.”

Knox noted that the recent change in government leadership could be an asset to the LGBT community’s pursuit of marriage equality but that supporters cannot become lackadaisical in their efforts.

“Having President Obama is going to be a terrific help to us. He’s certainly not where we want and hope him to be on marriage equality, but his stated and proven desire for real dialogue and having everyone’s needs heard and met as much as possible puts us in a better position than we were in the past, when we were shut out of the conversation with the government altogether, so we’re very hopeful,” he said. “We are not, however, sanguine; we recognize that with that conversation comes a whole new level of deep and determined work that has to be done. We’ve got to work harder than ever now. We cannot rest on our laurels and just say, ‘We’ve elected our friends to Congress and the White House.’ The really hard work begins now of trying to help people govern in ways that are just for LGBT people.”

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Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].