Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have long been at the forefront of efforts to achieve social justice and peace. The movement played a major role in the abolition of slavery in the United States and the United Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Quakers have been so strenuously involved in the anti-war movement over the years that the FBI and the Pentagon have kept various “meetings,” the Quaker equivalent of congregations, under surveillance. Under Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon had a lengthy file on an anti-war group associated with the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla.
Not surprisingly, Quaker groups also have been out front on the issue of marriage equality. Some meetings that perform wedding ceremonies refuse to sign civil marriage certificates, requiring the couples to have them completed by county officials.
The meetings involved in the marriage protest consider their refusal to sign the documents as an act of protest against marriage inequality. They plan to resume signing members’ marriage certificates when same-sex marriage is legalized.
Milwaukee Friends Meeting, 3224 N. Gordon Place, in the Riverwest neighborhood, recently joined the protest against marriage inequality, becoming perhaps the first Quaker group in the state to do so.
“We will not participate in the civil aspects of any marriage until such time as same-sex couples are able to participate in it,” said Roger Hansen, who’s part of the meeting’s marriage equality committee. He and his husband John Payton became part of the meeting after retiring and moving from Evanston, Ill., to Milwaukee in 2002. The couple also is active in Equality Wisconsin, an LGBT advocacy organization.
Hansen estimates 10-15 percent of the meeting’s approximately 200 affiliates are LGBT.
Although the marriage protest presents some inconvenience for members planning nuptials, they don’t seem to mind, said Janet, the meeting’s immediate past clerk. In fact, she said some members decided to take the action on their own before it became the Quaker equivalent of a policy, in order to show their solidarity with same-sex couples.
Hilliker said that the Quaker decision-making process involves reflection rather than debate. The proposal to join the marriage protest was brought up at two separate meetings, and no one expressed dissent at either.
“We don’t take votes, so it requires a very strong sense of unity” for what is called a “minute” to pass, Hilliker said.
The meeting first began to address LGBT issues when anti-gay forces in Wisconsin began campaigning for what Hilliker calls the “awful” voter referendum to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions in 2006.
“The work against the amendment in 2006 mobilized a number of members, and we passed another minute at that time to reaffirm our commitment to gay and lesbian issues,” Hilliker said.
Quakers first began welcoming LGBT people in the 1970s and expressed approval for same-sex marriage as far back as 1987, Hansen said. As with other faith groups, not all meetings are in the same place on the conservative-liberal spectrum.
There are four basic sects, and two of them have programmed worship services and follow an evangelical brand of theology, Hilliker said. The Riverwest meeting is casual and has no structured form of worship. Attendees speak when they feel called upon, Hilliker explained, using the old-fashioned forms of address “thee” and “thou,” although they might be wearing jeans.
The Riverwest meeting place is located on a scenic land preserve on the west bank of the Milwaukee River.
On the Web…
For more, go to www.milwaukeequakers.org/visitors/inv_to_worship.html?Op.