Gay activist defines individual rights
July 28, 2004
Separation of Church and State - A Family History

By John Emery, Jr.

Recently, I decided to explore my ancestral roots and found some interesting parallels with myself and today's historic events. These parallels begin in 1635 when the John Emery, Jr. family arrived in Boston aboard the "James," along with other religious refuge families who are seeking relief from the church, which at the time is controlled by the crown. This particular boatload of political hotheads stuck together once landing and began their own community. In 1640, 81 of these ancestral act-ups are made "freeman" and formally charter the town of Newbury, MA. Emery was then appointed to appraise all the properties in the new town for tax assessment and later served as juryman.

His political activism started quickly after he was brought up on charges for "excessive merriment" and later for "entertaining Quakers and other strangers." The second charge brought a steep fine. He was angered by this sentence and initiated a petition. In his petitioned appeal, he argued the moral and legal right of government to restrict the practices of other faiths that might allow for "merriment" and "entertaining of Quakers." His appeal was denied.

Later he involved himself with a case of Lt. Pike and the crown's denial to hear his petition for appeal. In this case, they were able to successfully argue for the right of all citizens to petition government and the right of all petitions to be heard in court.

Emery's foray into activism also involved a major schism in the Massachusetts Bay Colonies at the time. The earlier Pilgrims had arrived seeking religious freedoms while later immigrants arrived for other reasons. Half wanted the control of the church to reside in the body politic (later known as members of the "Woodman Party" led by John Woodman), and the other half wanted control to reside with the church officials and ultimately the crown (known as the "Parker Party"). This ideological split continued until 1776 when this concept of freedom is written into the Constitution of Massachusetts and the United States, allowing for the separation of church FROM state. As a direct descendant of both Emery & Woodman, I am amazed how histories repeat.

My first steps in activism began when the City and Borough of Anchorage decided to unify as a municipality. This unification required a new constitutional charter that, when originally drafted, included "sexual orientation" as a protected class. All was well until the chain-sawthern Baptists, thru the Moral Majority, waged a successful holy war that delayed the unification process and ultimately denied gays of due process. This Alaskan effort was led by Jerry Prevo, a Falwell-wannabe, without the weight problem and Ghandi-like compassion. One of our few supporters was City Assemblyman Tony Knowles (later governor), a young, successful restaurateur. As a result of his unequivocal support, the gay community throws itself behind his successful mayoral bid. Since there were no gay political organizations in Alaska at the time, we formed the Alaska Gay Coalition, which took on these battles. Soon afterward we incorporated Alaska's first gay political action committee, the Eleanor Roosevelt Club. For years, both ofthese organizations matched the efforts of the Moral Majority and their attempts to control governmental policy. After the gays, marijuana and the subsequent right of merriment were their next successful targets.

During this period, I was elected to represent Alaska on the National Steering Committee for the first March on Washington for lesbian and gay rights in 1979. This was the national lesbian and gay community's first attempt at a "constitutional congress," elected by the Body Politic from each state. The national delegate meetings, held around the country, and the march itself were met with ugly demonstrations from the religious right. Many of the delegates would die of AIDS in the decades that followed.

Finally, in December 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the laws that invaded the privacy of the bedroom and lifted the "criminal" status of gays. All gays and lesbians were instantly made "freemen," entitling us to all the privileges and responsibilities of those who are no longer "indentured" nor "criminal." For years the government used our "criminal" status to deny us all rights afforded all other "freeman." Our last barrier to full equality is now the guy carrying a sign at our holy unions declaring God hates fags.

In 2004 the 25th anniversary of Harvey Milk's dream for the first March on Washington, we are yet again facing another holy war. This time, the Catholics, Baptists and Mormons want their definition of a "holy union" to be set into the Constitution. As a Lutheran, my chosen ministry defines holy union to include couples of the same sex. The issue is not of gay rights but the rights of renegade Lutherans (and other religions) to have their "holy unions" recognized by government in the same way that a Catholic holy union would be.

Americans have come to expect government to treat equally, in the form of tax law, Lutherans' "tithes" and Catholics' "purchase of an indulgence." To codify a gay Lutheran wedding as morally inferior to a Catholic wedding is against everything our Constitution stands for. A Lutheran's hotly debated and ever-changing definitions of "holy union" and "holy communion" are different than a Catholics, and neither have ever been regulated by our Constitution before now.

Hopefully, most will see that the issue is more than one of lesbian and gay rights. Whether we struggle with the right of our church to practice "excessive merriment," "entertaining of Quakers," or "inter-racial and same sex holy unions," the underlying principle of SELF-determination is the same. Bush's rallying of the Jihad Fundamentalists to amend the Constitution denying the rights of Lutherans (and other religions) to define "holy union" as they choose, is just a 21st century attempt to rescind the Woodman/Parker Debate.

Churches that believe God loves fags must be recognized the same as the churches that believe God hates fags. Like it or not, it is the inevitable conclusion to our Constitution.

Privately, I wonder about the Pandora's box we're opening, knowing the propensity for male relationships to last 2-3 years, and female relationships to last 2-3 years longer than they probably needed to. Perhaps we'll teach others in our tailoring of this suit.

In observing Pascal's long conversion to Catholicism, Nietzsche observed this process to be the "slow suicide of reason." I hope he's wrong on that one. Like many, I think Christianity is a FABULOUS idea and that it's a crying shame no one has ever tried it.

P.S. to my daughter: I know it's difficult for the both of us, but you also must focus your attention away from the cute guys in history class, and I can only pray that you and all of the other students at your Quaker college find our family history entertaining. Keep up the good work and always be merry. It's legal now. Luv ya, Papa John

© John Emery, all rights reserved

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