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GC2009: Marriage equality, same-gender rites receive broad support at hearings

GC2009: Marriage equality, same-gender rites receive broad support at hearings

From Episcopal Life Online
July 11, 2009
Episcopal News Service

Anaheim, California---More than 50 people testified on a collection of resolutions requesting marriage equality or rites for same-gender blessings, with a vast majority speaking in favor of the resolutions, in hearings before the joint Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee on July 9.

Four resolutions proposed canonical changes, while seven recommended developing rites for same-gender blessings or marriage. Witnesses supporting the resolutions varied in age, gender, sexual orientation and marital status, including one newly engaged visitor planning a same-gender wedding for 2011 who told the committee, "I am counting on you." Retired Utah Bishop Otis Charles and his partner Felipe Sanchez Paris each testified, while the Rev. Reid Farrell, Vermont alternate deputy, testified with Dale Willard, his partner of 20 years, at his side.

Speaking in support of Resolution C028 asking for the development of additional gender-neutral language for marriage rights in the Book of Common Prayer, Otis compared it to a "coming out" process for the church.

"I believe it will liberate the church to be able to be about the mission that we can do so powerfully and also will be a gift to the Anglican Communion," he said. "Every time an individual or a community 'comes out,' they free others to come out. The rest of the Anglican Communion needs to be supported and freed in order to become who they are."

Several young adults testified in favor of developing rites for same-gender unions.

"I am 18, and I am a gay Episcopalian," said Carolyn Chou, a member of the official youth presence at convention. "Let my parents have the privilege of seeing me get married one day."

Volunteer Hannah Anderson, 17, of Northern California drew applause when she described her friend Arthur, who she met in fourth grade at diocesan summer camp. "Arthur was gay, but to us he was just another one of us. Our 10-year-old selves didn't see him as different."

When he was in junior high, Arthur wrote in his suicide note about how he loved camp, she said, "but he couldn't stand being alive in a world where he could only be accepted one week a year."

"I do not believe that civil rights automatically are the basis of a church rite," said the Rev. Dorothee Hahn, deputy from the Churches in Europe and a German national. She said she opposed developing rites because the church had not yet reached consensus about whether homosexuality is sinful. "My personal view is irrelevant without [this] theological basis. We have to overcome this theology of sin before it is the right time to move on."

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, spoke in support of Resolution C019 to amend marriage canons to reflect civil law, replacing the words "a man and a woman" with "two persons" and "husband or wife" with "spouse." It represents "our best, brightest and most focused effort to achieve clarity on this issue," she said. "The marriage of same-sex couples is no longer theoretical; it is ontological. ... It is time for the church to amend the canons to recognize that reality."

The Rev. Charles Holt, (Central Florida), opposed the resolution. "My greatest concern is the message we are sending to the children that are in our care," he said. "We're teaching them not to trust the word of God, and that is problematic."

Others cited their own children in supporting various resolutions. One mother described leaving the Roman Catholic Church when she realized her 3-year-old son was gay and finding a home in the Episcopal Church. Her son is now 22. "I am hoping and praying he will find the love of his life, and that when that happens, the Episcopal Church will be there to extend the sacrament of marriage," she said.

"I really believe it's time for us to get to marriage," said the Rev. Timothy Safford, (Pennsylvania), in support of Resolution C028. "John needs to say, 'Tim is asking me to marry him, and we want to marry in the church,' and when the grandmother says it's not possible, he needs to be able to say, 'Yes, it's on page 423 of the Book of Common Prayer.'"

But others favored a more gradual approach. Resolution D043 "suggests a via media approach," said San Diego Bishop James Mathes. The resolution calls for bishops allowing parishes to be designated "inquiring and discernment parishes where the blessing of unions of two consenting adults will be permitted" after the parishes complete "a comprehensive study on human sexuality."

The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, (Kansas), asked for clarity on the distinction between a sacred union and a marriage. "I would be honored to bless a gay union," she said. But walking the halls at convention, she said, she is "afraid that we are becoming a church of the fundamentalist left" and neglecting appropriate theological reflection in moving forward.

---Sharon Sheridan is copy editor of Episcopal Life.

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