My letter on same-sex marriage in Rhode Island
I just emailed the following letter to several Rhode Island senators. Our state is currently debating passage of a bill to permit same-sex marriage. If you are a Rhode Islander so inclined, I hope you will express your thoughts as well.
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I am an Episcopal priest serving at Christ Church in Lincoln. I am writing to urge your support and passage of S-0147, enabling same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.
As a religious leader, I view marriage as a sacred covenant between two people before God, in which their mutual love is manifest. In the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, the first purpose of marriage is described as “for their mutual joy.” Two men or two women who share a committed relationship should be able to enjoy the same protections and benefits that I enjoy in my marriage of sixteen years to a wonderful woman.
From the news coverage, it seems that religious objections are foremost among those who resist passage of this bill. Proponents of a same-sex marriage ban cite “biblical marriage” or “freedom of religion” in their statements. Firstly, the Bible is hardly supportive of marriage as it is now understood in this country. In the Old Testament, women were viewed as property to be exchanged among men, and there is no sense of mutuality in marriage. Polygamy is normative in the Old Testament; concubines are acceptable. In the New Testament, St. Paul is skeptical of marriage — suggesting that it is better to be unmarried. Jesus himself says nothing about marriage, other than to insist that divorce is to be avoided when possible, because of the consequences to women in ancient Palestinian culture. In other words, there simply is no biblical justification that applies in this matter.
In terms of religious freedom, the bill specifically prevents any minister or church from being compelled to perform marriage. This is unchanged from the current law, secular and religious. When I meet with couples who seek marriage, I am currently allowed to refuse to marry them for any reason or for no reason. Under S-0147, this will not change. In other words, the bill preserves the same freedom of religious exercise that we now enjoy.
Why do I support same-sex marriage? I believe that in our culture of self-interest, we should support any strengthening and broadening of an institution which will encourage people to make familial commitments. If two men or two women love each other, our whole society benefits from their mutual promise to support one another and, when it is God’s will, to raise children in a loving home.
There are practical reasons to support passage of this bill — healthcare decisions, access to hospitals for visits, property inheritance, and arrangements at the time of death. But these practical matters are less important to me, and I suspect to those who would seek marriage. Most important is the ability for everyone to enjoy the same things that I enjoy — the institution of marriage, in which mutual love and support is expressed and manifest.
I hope you pass this bill. In Massachusetts, once they had access to same-sex marriage, we have not seen walls crumble or people swallowed up by the earth. Rather, we have seen ordinary people able to enjoy ordinary marriage and extraordinary love and support for one another.
My contact information is below. I would be pleased to speak with anyone about my support of this bill as a religious leader.
You can learn more at Marriage Equality Rhode Island.