From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
ENS - Episcopal Church leaders urge restraint on marriage
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Tue, 02 Mar 2004 15:24:51 -0800
March 2, 2004
Episcopal Church leaders urge restraint on marriage amendment
By Jan Nunley
[ENS] President George W. Bush's endorsement of a proposed Federal Marriage
Amendment banning same-sex marriage has generated a call for restraint and
continued conversation from the Presiding Bishop and other Episcopal
bishops, while advocacy organizations within the Episcopal Church lined up
for and against the legislation.
Bush called February 24 for a constitutional amendment "defining and
protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife...while
leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining
legal arrangements other than marriage."
The proposed amendment reads as follows:
"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and
a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor
state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or
the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
In a statement dated February 25, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold
"The Episcopal Church and other faith communities, as well as the larger
society in which we find ourselves, are presently engaged in conversations
and debates about issues of human sexuality, and more particularly
homosexuality and the public recognition of committed relationships between
members of the same sex. The Episcopal Church is on record as being
committed to continuing discussion and discernment around these questions,
about which we do not have a common mind, and to equal protection under the
law and full civil rights for homosexual persons.
"I am concerned about the advisability of a constitutional amendment being
put forth for discussion at this time. Questions of sexuality are far from
settled, and a constitutional amendment which was perceived as settling this
matter might make it more difficult to engage in civil discourse around this
"Further, sexuality is personal, and therefore engages us at an emotional
level where the language used can inflame rather than inform. For example,
some who do support the legal and civil rights of same-sex couples are
disturbed at the use of the term marriage to describe such unions, believing
that this term should be used only in reference to the commitment between a
man and a woman. Others believe that a term less than marriage is a
diminishment of such relationships.
"As I support the honoring of differing perspectives within the Episcopal
Church, equally, it is my strong hope that our national discourse during
this political season will promote thoughtful and respectful conversation.
The fullness of truth seldom resides in one point of view and therefore we
need to hold ourselves open to the possibility that our own perspectives
will be enlarged by those of others with whom we may disagree. It is my
prayer that we will find the way forward that respects the best of our civil
and religious traditions.
"During these debates, both within the church and civil society, I would
urge us to remember that we are conversing about an issue that affects the
lives of honorable men and women who should be recognized in the dignity of
their personhood and not simply discussed as abstractions.
Also commenting on the amendment proposal was Bishop David C. Bane, Jr., of
the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, who issued this statement to his
diocese February 27:
"The complex issues surrounding the blessing of same- sex relationships by
religious communities or the recognition of same- sex marriages by legal
institutions are still the topic of much debate. In these discussions it is
important to maintain a clear separation between the roles of church and
state. And it is imperative that we not try through the legislative or legal
process to short-circuit or pre-judge ongoing conversations about the moral
and religious issues involved."
Advocacy groups respond
The Claiming the Blessing steering committee, which includes representatives
of Integrity, Oasis, Beyond Inclusion and the Episcopal Women's Caucus, on
February 25 called the Bush endorsement "clear and unabashed discrimination
against gays and lesbians and their families. It will do nothing to defend
the institution of marriage and everything to deny equal rights under the
law to a segment of the population."
"Equal protection is guaranteed by the Constitution as a civil right for all
Americans--not just a chosen percentage," the steering committee added. "We
believe that this effort to write bias into the Constitution is inherently
unconstitutional. As Episcopal clergy stood in solidarity with the Freedom
Riders who challenged segregation in the 1960's, we stand in solidarity with
those in San Francisco who today challenge discrimination against gay and
lesbian families. We follow in the footsteps of those who spoke in
opposition to segregationist leaders when they railed against the courts
implementing integration in public schools as we speak in opposition to
George Bush and his expressed intention to amend the Constitution to
institutionalize the marginalization of gay and lesbian Americans."
On the opposite side of the issue, the American Anglican Council (AAC)
declared its support for the marriage amendment two and a half years ago
when it joined the Alliance for Marriage coalition. Three current and former
AAC board members sit on the Alliance's Board of Advisors, including the
AAC's president and CEO, the Rev. David Anderson; Bishop Peter Beckwith of
the Diocese of Springfield; and Bishop Stephen Jecko, a former AAC board
member and retired bishop of Florida. Another Episcopalian listed on the AFM
board is Diane Knippers of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.
In a statement issued July 11, 2001, the AAC said the amendment is "designed
to protect both marriage and democracy in the United States by preserving
the legal status of marriage from court redefinition."
"The Federal Marriage Amendment is an important step to help preserve the
institution of marriage in our society," said Beckwith in a news release.
"The AAC strongly encourages the leadership of the Episcopal Church to join
with us in supporting this vital amendment."
Requirements for ratification
A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage requires a two-thirds vote in both
houses of Congress and ratification by 38 state legislatures. So far,
legislators in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois,
Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and
Virginia have introduced resolutions urging Congress to pass the Federal
According to the non-partisan online news publication Stateline.org,
twenty-one states are considering or planning to debate a ban on marriage of
same-sex couples in the state constitution: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho,
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma,
Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. Legislative approval
could place the issue before the voters as soon as November in some states.
Proposed constitutional amendments have died in Arizona and Maine, while
there is a petition drive in Oregon to place the issue on the November
At least 12 states are debating statutes that would either prohibit same-sex
marriage or marriage-like benefits or strengthen previous bans. In January,
Ohio enacted the nation's strictest ban on gay marriage, forbidding any
public policy that extends marriage-like benefits to same-sex couples.
Similar bills have been introduced in Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, New
Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia
and Washington, but bills introduced in South Dakota and Wyoming have
Limited access to marriage benefits is available for same-sex couples in
states such as Vermont, where a civil unions law includes hospital
visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions for an
incapacitated partner. Registered domestic partners in California will gain
almost state-level marriage benefits on Jan. 1, 2005. New Jersey now has a
statewide domestic partner registry; Hawaii's system is termed "reciprocal
According to a 1997 U.S. General Accounting Office report, the 1996 Federal
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies same-sex couples 1,049 marriage rights
and responsibilities recognized by the federal government, ranging from
adoption and child custody rights, survivor's rights to Social Security
benefits, and tax-free inheritance of a spouse's estate, to smaller benefits
such as family discounts at national parks.
--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service. Portions
of this report were adapted from Stateline.org.
Send QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS to The Rev. Jan Nunley, deputy director,
firstname.lastname@example.org The enslist is published by
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalchurch.org/ens
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