A headline in the Thursday, May 7 Post and Courier has been followed by at least three additional articles since then about the legalization of what the media calls ”˜gay marriage’. The article on May 7 began, ”˜In a banner day in New England for advocates of gay marriage, Maine legalized the practice Wednesday, and the New Hampshire Legislature voted to do the same”¦ (New Hampshire) would be the sixth state overall”¦ to allow gay marriage.’
Meanwhile, Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California, continues to make the news as the contestant who has spoken out opposed to gay marriage. And, the every-three-year General Convention of the Episcopal Church, convening in less than a month, may have something to say about this, too. Since this issue seems to be gathering more and more momentum and headlines, I sense the need as a priest of Christ’s Church to say something regarding this.
The news articles are making reference to these states that are declaring that a same-sex relationship””a union between two men or two women”” are of the same character, order and quality of what the Christian faith, other world faiths, and world cultures have recognized for millennia as reserved for the special relationship between one man and one woman that we call marriage or in the church, Holy Matrimony. (Attempts in some cultures to make it a relationship of more than one man and one woman (polygamy) has never achieved positive acceptance.)
I am moved to ask, ”˜How can this be?’ I am sympathetic for those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian seeking to have the rights and privileges due any person anytime. I also understand an individual’s desire to have the legal right to bequeath or empower another individual, any one he or she chooses, to be an advocate for that individual’s rights, or a recipient or a beneficiary for that person. Our own baptismal covenant which asks us to respect the dignity of every human being and the Biblical call to love are certainly all the warrant one needs in terms of all of our relationships to be rooted in fairness and concern for others.
Nevertheless it astonishes me that the institution of marriage is now being re-defined ostensibly for the sake of legal rights. If marriage is defined as anything, any relationship, then marriage is no longer marriage as it has been known through the ages. The procreative role in the union of a man and a woman, in itself, make this relationship unlike any other kind of possible union. Further, there is the unique complementarity of a man and woman that the Biblical narrative in Genesis speaks of so powerfully. Mankind is made in the image of God, and as male and female, they most ideally represent the full image of our Creator God.
It seems to me that it is like this: there are some inherent realities that simply are what they are by their nature and their very essence. For example, no matter how much I as a man want the ”˜right’ to become pregnant, it will not happen. It does not matter what I think about the idea or what a court says about the idea or what law is passed. I cannot bear a child, whether I like it or not. Is it possible that there are some fundamental realities, like the institution of marriage, that carry the same inherent givenness? This is where some of us may disagree, but I believe marriage bears this sort of weight and truth. It is what it is””no more and no less.
For Anglicans, whether it is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer or the Prayer Book of 1662, the service has begun with these or similar words, ”˜”¦We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The service continues with the collect that reads, ”˜O gracious and everliving God, you have created us male and female in your image”¦’ Our liturgy gives clear expression to whom the sacrament of marriage is available.
It is equally clearly defined in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. There is currently no wiggle room here for this particular innovation of same gender relationships! Canon 18, Section 2b: Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony””Before solemnizing a marriage the Member of the Clergy shall have ascertained: That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman”¦with intent that it be lifelong.
I am grieved that this particular agenda is being pressed so fervently by the GLBT (Gay-Lesbian-Bi-sexual-Transgender) lobby. Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, spoke in the fall of 2008 in opposition to California’s Proposition 8 which had as its goal to universalize the institution of marriage. Spoken with compassion and sensitivity but also with clarity, his words are worth noting. Here are some excerpts from his comments last fall:
”¢ There are about 2% of Americans who are homosexual or gay and lesbian people. We should not let 2% of the population change the definition of marriage”¦
”¢ This is not even just a Christian issue. It is a no to gays using the term marriage for their relationship”¦.
”¢ While I believe the gay view of sexuality is contrary to God’s Word, I do believe that God gives us free choice and he gives us a choice to obey his word or to disobey it”¦.
”¢ Some people feel today that if you disagree with them, then that’s hate speech. If you disagree with them you either hate them or you’re afraid of them. I’m neither afraid of gays nor do I hate gays. In fact I love gays but I do disagree with some of their beliefs.
May our politics, our courts, our legislatures be moved to see the wrong path that is being taken when it universalizes the marriage sacrament for any and all. May the Church, all denominations, even other faiths, speak with one voice affirming that marriage, by its definition, is to remain as a relationship establishing the union of one man and one woman. May we find a better way forward that protects an individual’s civil rights without using the institution of marriage as the means to those civil rights. May those of us who have this same conviction speak our convictions with clarity; yet continue to respect the dignity of every human being.
In Christ’s love,
–The Rev. Michael Lumpkin is rector, Saint Paul’s, Summerville, South Carolina