Monday, February 09, 2009

The Bishop Clarifies SSM for All

Bishop Gene Robinson's crisp, reasoned call for passage of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire was brilliant. Testifying before his state's Judiciary Committee on February 5th, he brought everyone who heard knowledge and clarity.

The remarks are below. You can view and hear them on the video clip here. Earlier post on the testimony, pro and con SSM, is here. The bishop is shown in an image from the diocese's site.

Without drama or hyperbole, he both explains why SSM is right and answers the questions while deflating the myths based on emotion. Again, brilliant.

My name is Gene Robinson. I am a citizen of Weare, and I serve as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Last June, my partner of 20+ years, Mark Andrew, and I were joined in a civil union, for which we are very grateful. I am here to ask your support in making the promise of “equality under the law” a reality in New Hampshire by allowing us to translate that second-class status into the civil right of marriage.

Since January 1, 2008, some 600 civil unions have been enacted. Think about what you were told 18 months ago by those who wanted you to be fearful of this action. Has western civilization as we know it come to an end? Has your marriage to your opposite sex partner been undermined – in any way – by my professed love for and commitment to my partner? Has the family been eroded as a cornerstone of our society, or has it been strengthened by the solemn and genuine commitments taken on by gay and lesbian couples in this state? Does any reasonable person believe that these 600 committed couples threaten the State or the society or your marriages in any way?

The fears were unfounded. It turns out that you were right to do what you did. Now it is time to finish what you started, by making our relationships equal in the eyes of the law and in the minds of the public by granting marriage equality under the law to ALL the citizens of New Hampshire.

Let me briefly speak to two concerns you might have, especially as it relates to people of faith.
First, those who would continue to discriminate against some of our citizens would tell you that we are changing the definition and meaning of marriage. They are absolutely right! But what they are WRONG about is in claiming that marriage has always had only one meaning up until now! Marriage for men in the Old Testament included multiple wives, not to mention concubines, if you were wealthy enough. Marriage until the Middle Ages was all about property, legitimacy of heirs and inheritance rights – so decidedly so, that common people and serfs on an estate were not even encouraged to be married, since there was nothing to inherit anyway! While marriage has served many purposes historically, including procreation, we have never prohibited from marrying those unable to procreate, either because of infertility or advanced age. Just forty years ago, we changed the definition of marriage to include people of different races – a change in definition that allowed Barack Obama’s parents to be married. The definition of marriage has always been evolving, and the inclusion of same gender partners is simply the next logical revision in that evolution.

And second, the thing I most want you to remember from my testimony is this: religions and people of faith have nothing to fear from this bill. Indeed, many congregations (including those here in the Diocese of New Hampshire) already celebrate and bless the uniting of two people of the same gender in love, responsibility and mutual commitment. Permitting two people of the same sex to declare their love for one another and to assume the responsibilities of civil marriage will affect religion in no way.

House Bill 436 makes very explicit the continuing right, that no religious organization or clergyperson is “obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage” in violation of their First Amendment freedom of religion. No denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same-gender citizens.

Let’s be clear. Civil marriage is a civil action, which has gotten confused in our society only because clergy have been permitted to act as agents of the State in signing marriage licenses and thereby enacting civil marriages. The State affects a civil marriage. Churches, synagogues and mosques may pronounce God’s blessings on these marriages, if they choose, but civil marriages are still bona fide marriages even if they are not presided over by a member of the clergy. All the rights, privileges and responsibilities of civil marriage pertain even if there was nothing religious involved or intended. This is clearer in countries like France, where everyone is married at the mayor’s office; then those couples who are religious and desire a blessing, go to their place of worship for such a service. Civil marriage is a civil act – proven by the reality that when a marriage comes unraveled, the couple doesn’t go back to the church or synagogue where the service was performed to dissolve that marriage, but to the State and its Courts. Holy Matrimony, that is, affirming the vows made in marriage in the presence of God and God’s Church, will remain undisturbed or changed in any way. And no denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same-gender citizens.

As a religious person and a Bishop of the Church, permit me to ask my religious colleagues who might object to marriage equality, is it right to force our religious beliefs on the rest of the citizens of the State? Just because my particular faith does not bless such marriages, does that mean that this civil right to marriage should be denied to citizens of New Hampshire? Just as we cherish our rights as religious people not to be infringed upon by the State, so the State should not be infringed upon by the particular beliefs of the Church!

One purpose of the State is to protect, equally, all of its citizens, no matter their religious beliefs. Later today, you will consider making sure that our transgender citizens are protected from violence and discrimination – a bill I support wholeheartedly. And in this bill, you are merely giving all of our citizens the same and equal right to live productive lives in stable and recognized marriages. Equal protection under the law is the dream and promise of America.

There is hardly a more oft-repeated phrase in the Old and New Testaments than this: “Be not afraid.” Ladies and gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee, don’t let the religious opponents to marriage equality you will hear from today and in the days to come make you afraid to do what is right. As Americans, we are promised equal protection under the law and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Be not afraid” to make this equal protection a reality for ALL the citizens of New Hampshire.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Impressive, inspirational.