Show Support for Gays More than 850 clergy members and other religious leaders have endorsed a declaration on morality that calls upon all faiths to bless same-sex couples and allow gay ministers.

In addition to addressing homosexuality, one of the most hotly disputed issues in American religion today, the declaration advocates open access to abortion and sex education at all age levels. It opposes "unsustainable population growth," the "commercial exploitation of sexuality" and all forms of "sexual oppression."

The one-page statement was sponsored by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a New York-based nonprofit group. It was released at a news conference Tuesday featuring John Buehrens and John Thomas, presidents, respectively, of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

Officials and clergy from those two denominations and from the Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, made up nearly half the signers of the statement. Others included members of the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The declaration got slim backing among Catholics--only two nuns and a handful of lay activists--and none from major Evangelical, black Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim organizations.

Council President Debra Haffner said the paper was developed because "the religious right has staked the public claim to the dialogue on sexuality and religion. There was a huge outpouring of interest in doing something to articulate a different vision."

-- Associated Press

LOCAL NOTES

* Emory United Methodist Church, on Georgia Avenue NW, recently dedicated two renovated community buildings, the Emory Beacon of Light "Light House" and the Richard L. Clifford House. The residences will provide temporary housing for the homeless, a computer learning/job training center and spiritual counseling services. The project was a joint effort by Emory and Yachad Inc., a Jewish development corporation.

* The Washington and San Francisco provinces of the Marists, a Roman Catholic educational and missionary society, have merged to form the San Francisco-Washington, D.C., Province of the Society of Mary. Officials said the merger was necessary because "fewer young people enter ministry or religious life."

* The United Jewish Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has awarded 17 grants totaling $486,300 to fund such programs as overnight camping, teen trips to Israel, a social justice program at the University of Maryland and scholarships for elderly emigres from the former Soviet Union who are now living in Washington.