At its annual General Assembly on June 25-29, in Providence, RI, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) overwhelmingly ratified amendments to its nondiscrimination rule, including "family and relationship structures" to its list of specifically protected groups.
The language was introduced by Desmond Ravenstone, a delegate for the Arlington Street Church of Boston, Massachusetts, and Jasmine Walston of the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, Kentucky. Ravenstone is also Moderator of Leather & Grace (L&G), an educational and support organization devoted to promoting awareness of BDSM, kink and fetish sexual identity; Walston is Secretary of Unitarian Universalists of Polyamory Awareness (UUPA).
"Leaders of our two groups have discussed what kind of language we'd like to see added to the new rule," Ravenstone explained. "Jasmine and I felt that 'family and relationship structures' covers a wide range, especially regarding polyfolk."
The UUA's previous General Assembly had begun the two-stage process of replacing the nondiscrimination language in its bylaws with a broader and more positive "inclusion" language, while retaining the old language in a supplementary rule which would be easier to amend. There had been discussions of what changes would be introduced to the rule, but no concrete proposals until this year's Assembly in Providence, Rhode Island.
Delegates at a "mini-assembly" where final revisions may be incorporated approved three such amendments: replacing "race" with "racialized identity" as proposed by anti-racism activists; expanding "gender" to "gender expression, gender identity" and "sex" at the urging of the UUA's transgender community; and "family and relationship structures" introduced by Ravenstone and Walston. The mini-assembly voted to approve all three changes as a single incorporated amendment to be brought to the full Assembly during its seventh session two days later.
At the General Assembly session, the full amendment was discussed and overwhelmingly approved. "There was no one debating against," Ravenstone recalled, "and no questions about the poly-inclusive language that Jasmine and I had brought forward. Looking at the delegate voting cards going up and down, and the results of 'off-site' delegates voting remotely over an Internet connection, I only saw one vote opposed."
Ravenstone also believes the new language may be embraced by other groups as well as polyamorous individuals and households. In particular, many relationships identified with BDSM could be considered as falling under this description. "We still have a ways to go assuring that kink-oriented people have equal standing in our progressive faith, but this is definitely a positive step towards right relationship."
Leather & Grace, a Coalition Partner of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) remains committed to education and advocacy among Unitarian Universalists to build upon the success of this recent collaboration with their UUPA allies.