Sunday, July 5, 2015

In the end, it isn’t about winners or losers

Well, it’s done. The Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples and The Episcopal Church has moved to allow the celebration of the marriages of same-sex couples in its parishes. One thing to note, however, is that although the timing is merely coincidental (TEC has been considering this in one way or another through several triennia) the decisions are not unrelated.

Commentators have focused often on the sea change in attitudes represented in polls taken over the last ten years or so – ever since Massachusetts moved to make same-sex marriage legal in its jurisdiction. That change may have occurred in part because of the willingness of more and more self-identified homosexual people to emerge from “the closet” and show themselves to the world often as good citizens, hard-working contributors to the economy, and even model members of their local communities. This same “coming out” also forced many of their families and friends to recognize that they had good and healthy relationships with someone who is “other” than they – even if they did not like the fact that their son/daughter/friend was gay. As often happens when individuals consider societal “others,” the distinction and prejudices begin to diminish when they are enfleshed and made real in the person of someone we know and love.

The legal arguments – both civil and canonical – may have focused on the justice issues involved. Nonetheless the real driving force behind attitudinal change represented by these decisions is the incarnation or enfleshment of an idea in real people. When we look into the eyes of an anguished young person who has been marginalized by bullies because they seem “different,” when we seek to comfort someone who has lost the most significant person in his or her life but is not allowed to make the final arrangements they discussed in the intimacy of their home, when we consider the economic disadvantage wrought by a tax code that would not recognize the joining of fiscal and financial resources over a long period of years for no other reason than the law forbade it – then we begin to understand the impact of inequality in this regard. This is at the heart of the Supreme Court’s reasoning.

In our Church communities, when we see two people exercise deep care and concern for one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty” but refuse to acknowledge that they have joined themselves for the present and for the future in a covenant not unlike others except for their gender, we cut ourselves off form the representation of God’s deep and abiding love for us that comes in the recognition of their mutual “joy and affection.” This is at the heart of TEC’s decision to allow the “sacramentalization,” that is, the recognition, of God’s work in the lives of deeply committed and covenanted couples.

So how should we, and the Christian community as a whole, respond to these actions? We could begin by talking about what marriage means to us, and to reflect on Justice Anthony Kennedy's statement in the court's majority opinion that “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves." We can talk about the dignity of same-sex couples and how we can treat them with respect. We can talk about how we may move forward as a church and society by respecting the laws of the land and the different viewpoints of people in our communities and in our own church, always exercising the principles enshrined in our baptismal covenant “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” even when we disagree. To those who do disagree with the Court and with TEC, I simply offer the counsel of Gameliel: “If this . . . undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God.”

In the end, it isn’t about winners or losers. It is about finding the will of God and following it to the best of our ability.

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