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Claremont couples, clergy weigh in on recent Prop 8, DOMA rulings

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8—a 2008 amendment to the California constitution stating, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”—as well as a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Change may indeed often be slow, but Reverend Sharon Rhodes-Wicket, lead pastor with the Claremont United Methodist Church and her congregation are ready to make a big transition.

Last year, the church council of the Claremont United Methodist Church took a vote to add heft to its designation of reconciling by supporting their clergy who perform same-sex weddings and opening their sanctuary to such unions. Two couples in the congregation have expressed an interest in being married at Claremont United Methodist Church, one as soon as this October.

Granting their wishes will be a risk. The actions of each United Methodist Church are directed by the decisions of the General Conference, which forbids United Methodist ministers from performing weddings or commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, even in states where it is legal.

“We as a congregation have decided not to live in fear of that polity any more and to move ahead and be a pastoral church that cares for our church folks, and that includes those that need to be married,” Rev. Rhodes-Wickett said. “I know what the consequences could be for me—I could be stripped of my clergy orders. But we made that decision that we’re going to go ahead and do what we believe is obedient to what we understand to be God’s love and grace.”

The Reverends Gebbie and Rhodes-Wicket noted while they were jubilant at the Supreme Court’s affirmation of same-sex marriage, they were grieved by its recent decision to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Claremonter David Cisneros, a former school principal who know works as a sales representative for an educational software company, recalls similar mixed feelings with regards to the election night of November 4, 2008.

“Our country, which had passed through many prejudices, had elected an African-American citizen,” Mr. Cisneros noted. “That same election, Proposition 8 passed. It’s one step forward, 2 steps back.”

With this truism in mind, he and his partner Scott Bohlender, an elementary school principal in the Redlands Unfied School District, rushed to get married in June of 2008 as soon as same-sex marriage was legalized in the state. They headed to the courthouse with their 2 sons, now 17 and 19. The ceremony was followed by a lunch reception with friends, held at Walter’s Restaurant.

“It was awesome,” their younger son, Chris noted. “They weren’t married before when I was adopted. It was more meaningful to have 2 dads who were legally recognized.”

Mr. Cisneros said the immediate aftermath of their marriage was an uncertain time: “We were greatly relieved when weddings that happened in that window were allowed to remain.”

Mr. Cisneros, Mr. Bohlender and their sons spend their spare time involved in their church and in scouting. They also head for the movies or go camping at the beach whenever they have a chance.

 “What’s happened is more families of gay men and lesbian women and transgendered people are visible in everyday life,” he said. “And other families see that we’re doing all the same things everyone else is doing. We love our children like they love their children.”

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