Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Within a few weeks, the United States Supreme Court is likely to rule on the issue of whether individual states can prohibit legal marriages of same sex couples and can refuse to recognize such marriages from other states. Oral arguments before the nine justices occurred on April 28, 2015. The printed and audio records of the hearing are readily available on the Internet. And, once again, Episcopalians, or at least certain Episcopalians, have done the right thing. They have stood courageously for human rights. They have added their voices to the Court in the cause of freedom and equality. 

A vast group of religious leaders in America joined together to present a brief of Amici curiae (friends of the court) to the Supreme Court in support of same sex marriage. A long list of religious institutions signed on as well as nearly 2,000 individual clergy and theologians representing many religious backgrounds (many of them were Episcopalians). Leading the list of religious institutions was "President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church" and "The Episcopal Bishops of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee." Then followed the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, numerous Reformed Jewish groups, and various Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran associations. Under the "Table of Authorities" in the brief, the Episcopalians included the resolutions of the Episcopal Church General Convention supporting rights for homosexual persons, 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2012.

The justices of the Supreme Court could not avoid being impressed by this massive outpouring of religious support for marriage equality. As a writer in the New York Times recently pointed out, "It's Not Gay Marriage vs. the Church Anymore" ( . (Click on "Episcopal Church" for the Amici brief.) There has been a significant wave of religious support for same sex marriage in recent years. Even the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently voted to allow ministers to perform same sax marriages; and a majority of presbyteries approved this. The myth that Christian and Jewish leaders were united in opposition to same sex marriage has collapsed. 

Of course, this is not the first time Episcopalians have stood up in the courts for same sex marriage. In 2013, all of the Episcopal bishops in the state of California supported the challenge of Proposition 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court. At the same time, 29 bishops representing 23 of the 24 dioceses in states with marriage equality joined in supporting the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the Supreme Court. In that instance, the majority of the Supreme Court justices voted to overturn Prop 8 and DOMA. Justice Kennedy was the "swing" vote to carry the majority. The witnesses of so many Episcopal leaders could not have been lost on the majority of justices. For years, SCOTUS has usually been 5-4 conservative. 

Right now all eyes are on Justice Kennedy, again. In the hearing of April 28, he dropped little hint of how he would vote. Conventional wisdom holds that the Court, as in 2013, once again will narrowly support same sex marriage, but as we all know it is risky to jump to conclusions about how the court will vote. Still, considering the clear-cut recent history of the Court's handling of this issue in favor of marriage equality in case after case, one could only be shocked if the Court now reversed its attitude. A ruling of the Supreme Court is expected next month. It will be a landmark decision setting the national policy on same sex marriage. This is a moment of high drama in the social history of the United States, and perhaps of the world.

The Episcopal Church has been wrestling with the issue of rights for homosexual persons for forty years. On the whole, the Church has done the right thing. Slowly but surely the General Convention, the policy making body of the Church, has voted in favor or equality and justice. Bit by bit homosexuals have gained rights in the Church. Last month's amici brief was simply the most recent example of that long process of doing the right thing. (One note, however; the Episcopal Church has not yet approved same sex marriage, only a blessing of a same sex couple.)

As we have seen, opposition to equal rights for homosexuals in the Episcopal Church was the direct cause of the leaders of the Diocese of South Carolina's decision to leave the Episcopal Church. This puts DSC on the wrong side of history. Polls show that the majority of Americans support equal rights for homosexuals; and that majority is growing rapidly. Within a few years even the most conservative sections of America (e.g. South Carolina) will support equality for all. Young people especially are overwhelmingly in support of freedom and toleration. As time goes by, DSC will find fewer and fewer people supporting its dying social prejudices. It will either have to accept equality for homosexuals or face extinction, or at least a severely diminished following, mostly of old people.

(Thanks to Sylvia Folk for her help with this material.)

ADDENDUM, May 12:     Even conservative bishops can find a way to do the right thing. Bishop Gregory Brewer, of Central Florida, recently found himself in the middle of an explosion in cyberspace. A male same-sex couple asked to have their adopted infant son baptized in St. Luke's Cathedral, in Orlando (Anglo-Catholic heritage), only to run into opposition. The couple put their experience on Facebook. It went viral. Thousands of people protested to Bishop Brewer. Long story short, Brewer agreed with the baptism which will now proceed. Brewer's moving letter to his diocese is online:  .  If some conservatives can do the right thing and keep their heart-felt beliefs, could not all do likewise? As Bishop Brewer, in 2012 the bishop of South Carolina could have done the right thing and kept his principles. Instead, he chose to leave the Episcopal Church.

ADDENDUM, May 20:     More conservative bishops are continuing to do the right thing. Bishop Lillibridge, of West Texas, was once prominent among right-wing bishops. West Texas was one of the twelve dioceses that could be counted on as staunchly and reliably resistant to rights for homosexuals. No more. As Brewer, Lillibridge has changed his policies if not his mind. Thus, the old Robinson-era coalition of the alliance of the twelve hard-right dioceses in TEC is slowly but surely collapsing in the face of reality. Read the detailed and informative article by the conservative writer Mary Ann Mueller, "West Texas Bishop Now Sees Through Rainbow Colored Glasses"