SEATTLE (ABP) – A Seattle Baptist church known for a long history of social activism voted March 4 to affirm Washington State’s new law legalizing gay marriage.
“Our church does not want to stay silent as other religious communities voice their opposition to marriage equality,” said J. Manny Santiago, pastor of the University Baptist Church-Seattle. “We need to let people know that there are thousands of religious people -- of all faith traditions -- that support equality.”
According to a press release, the congregation voted unanimously in a called business meeting to pass a resolution celebrating and affirming the Marriage Equality Bill signed into law Feb. 13. The measure made Washington the nation’s seventh state allowing gays and lesbians to wed.
“As a Welcoming and Affirming congregation, University Baptist Church rejoices with the passage of the Marriage Equality Bill by the Washington State Legislature and the signing into law by Governor Chris Gregoire,” the resolution said. “We celebrate that marriage will now be recognized for same-sex couples, and a history of marriage discrimination will end.”
Even though the church affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA has been part of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists since 1990, Santiago said the resolution was not taken lightly. “We prayed, studied and had a series of conversations on how to best respond to the recent marriage equality legislation,” he said.
Before passing the resolution the church looked at the possibility of refusing to sign marriage certificates until it was certain that all couples could marry in the State of Washington. “We wanted to be proactive and not just reactionary,” Santiago said.
The resolution authorized the pastor and moderator to explore partnerships with other organizations working to support gay marriage in Washington State and encouraged members of the congregation to participate in the support of the marriage equality law.
“In light of anti-marriage and anti-family organization’s efforts to put this issue before the voters this year, we needed to take a stand and to actively work to maintain the marriage equality law,” Santiago said.
Formed in 1901, University Baptist Church was in the 1980s the first church in the state to become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants and provided shelter and support for 70 Central American refugees. Those same apartments were home to conscientious objectors in 1991 and then homeless women and children. After years of struggling to pay for costs of maintaining an aging building designed for a much-larger congregation, the church voted in 2007 to sell its 82-year-old building and relocated to its present 100-seat sanctuary.
University narrowly escaped expulsion in 2000 from the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest, because one of its co-pastors at the time was gay. It now belongs to the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches, a region formed in 2003 by churches in California, Washington, Utah, Idaho and Alaska to move beyond controversy over homosexuality by doing business by consensus organized through ethnic caucuses.
University Baptist Church is also a member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.