As many of you know, North Carolina passed an amendment to their constitution regarding marriage last night. Even though gay marriage has been illegal in NC for more than a decade, this broad amendment defines that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognised in this state.” Thus, in one swoop, the law now denies any smidge of legal rights to gay and lesbian couples (and to any straight couple that remains unmarried).
Most conversations about gay marriage only treat the issue in the secular sense of legal wrangling and popular votes. The irony should not be lost on us that conservative Christians, the backbone of these campaigns, completely ignore the sacred and sacramental aspect of gay marriages. They might not even realize there is a sacred side to these marriages!
Passing such an amendment seriously limits the religious liberty of those Churches (like, say, the Episcopal Church) who are considering blessing same-sex unions. Such bigoted and hateful amendments attempt to place restrictions on whom TEC can confer the sacrament of marriage. This would be like a popular vote restricting who can be baptized or who can receive the most holy Eucharist. I’ll never understand how they — conservative Christians — can stomach this.
Here’s my opinion on same-sex marriage from 2010. It still seems salient to me in light of North Carolina’s decision last night.
In Christ, AF
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the question of what to do with Christians-who-happen-to-be-homosexual has been tearing my Church apart for the last few years. Recently, the battleground has been over whether Christians-who-happen-to-be-Homosexual (CwhtbH) can become Bishops and whether the Church should should sacramentally bless committed unions of CwhtbH. We’ve had several people leave (including the majority in a few dioceses), seeking alternative oversight from Bishops across the sea, the Pope or just starting their own denomination.
The arguments for both sides are well-rehearsed: we’ve heard them hashed out ad nauseum to the point that I quit listening to the “dialogue” a few years ago. The traditionalists will assert that scripture and tradition are both against any homosexual act. The liberals will counter with the fact that scripture and tradition are relatively silent on the issue and when it isn’t, the “homosexuality” of scripture and the modern homosexuality are not the same thing. The traditionalists will come back with the fact that marriage has always been understood as between one man and one woman. Not so, says the liberals, what of the biblical blessing of polygamy? So on and so forth until both sides are equally angry at the other.
Quite frankly, I find the arguments for both sides to be less than satisfying. The common traditional argument from scripture simply does not hold up in light of modern scholarship. The homosexual acts as described by St. Paul in Romans or St. John in the Apocalypse were more likely to be referring to pederasty or male prostitution — not a committed relationship. And you can’t really argue anything from Leviticus unless you’re prepared to not eat shellfish, get a fair price for selling your daughter into slavery, etc, etc. Plus, Tradition is not always right (don’t tell anyone that I wrote that).
Usually, most on the liberal side of things will argue as if Gay Marriage is a question of “rights”. Now, this is perfectly well and good when we talk about the secular institution that is marriage, but this language simply does not work since we’re a Church and we’re talking about a Sacrament. We give up all of our rights (as it were) when we are baptized into Christ; ideally, we submit our desires and rights to Christ and to His Church. Simply put, nobody has the right to do anything other than submit to each other. For example, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ is a privilege, not a right (as seen by the disciplinary rubrics in The Book of Common Prayer). Although I doubt it ever happens, if the Bishop or Priest thinks that you’re not ready to be confirmed, then you won’t get that Sacrament.
Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool don’t have the “right” to be a Bishop more than me or that toddler who was baptized a few months ago. But, they are Bishops because the Holy Spirit led their Dioceses (and the rest of the Church) to recognize their God-given gifts and talents. Of course, this is because they are infinitely more qualified than myself or that wet toddler. But to say that they have a right to be Bishop or that CwhtbH in committed relationships have a right to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage does a great disservice to the Holy Spirit! I find just as dissatisfying as the traditional argument.
It seems as if the Episcopal Church more and more sees the validity and Christ-likeness of committed relationships between CwhtbH. As Canon Reid pointed out recently, a Bishop in a committed same-sex relationship is far more traditional than a Bishop who has been divorced numerous times. I welcome this move! But the question of blessing these relationships still needs to fall under the context of a Sacrament, not of rights.
For example, at last General Convention, I believe the rule was put forth Churches in the states that have secular same-sex marriage were welcome to bless them. If the Episcopal Church believes that these committed relationships between CwhtbH are to be on-par with their straight counterpart, then why are we letting the Secular Government determine who we can give this Sacrament to? We would never do this with the Eucharist or Baptism, why are we doing it now with blessing these relationships into Marriage? Have we forgotten about St. Valentine performing Christian marriages in secret, even though the were outlawed by the Government? Just because the State of Tennessee does not give secular recognition to these committed relationships between CwhtbH, why are we following their leadership in denying the Sacrament (again, if the Church thinks that they should be recognized as such)?
If these committed relationships are to be considered equal to their straight counterparts, then we should liturgically and spiritually recognize them as such. If we do this, then we need to quit pandering to those who disagree by demanding that they, too, give certain “rights” to these committed, Christ-like relationships.
Let the government do what the government do; let those who disagree do what they will; but for us who believe this as a matter of conscience, then let us say in the words of the Rite, “. . . what God has joined together, let no man put asunder!”