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Marriage Equality and the Vatican’s Invitation

I am in support of marriage equality. Many of us in our diocese have been hard at work to help bring marriage equality to New Jersey, which will be taken up by the Legislature in this lame-duck session in Trenton (between now and when the new Governor takes office in early January). I pray that it passes – so that all couples who have relationships marked by fidelity and commitment can have their unions recognized. It is one thing to have the relationship blessed; it is quite another thing to have that relationship honored in emergency rooms or on insurance policies or in a courtroom. The introduction of the 2007 Civil Union law was intended to support these rights. It hasn’t. Instead, it has exposed a separate but equal mentality in the state, which is indeed separate yet anything but equal.

There is formidable opposition to this opportunity, which also needs to be honored. There are religious convictions that are deeply held and long-standing. People who are opposed to marriage equality often cite the tradition that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But a closer look shows that the historical tradition of marriage is that of a contract between two men: the groom and the father of the bride. When a woman was given in marriage, she was given by her father to her husband, and in this exchange the woman surrendered her name, her rights and her property. At the end of the ceremony, the couple was pronounced to be “man and wife”, and in that pronouncement was a community announcement as to who was in charge. Only in the last thirty years or so has this inequity been scaled back so that marriage is more of a partnership than a relationship of dominance (couples are now introduced as “husband and wife”).

But there is continued resistance in many quarters to this emerging equality between partners in a marriage. And I can’t help but think that some (but certainly not all) of the opposition to same-gender marriage is in part a rejection of equal partners in a life-long relationship (because it is not immediately clear who calls the shots).

Which brings me to the recent overture by the Vatican to invite disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. A lot has been said and written about this development. I am not sure how it will be played out. Yet I can’t help but hear the beginnings of another contract between men – from men who have institutional power in one tradition offering a place to men in another tradition who have felt their institutional power undermined and don’t want to give it up. Women are no doubt included in the invitation from Rome, but I don’t think that disaffected women Anglican priests will be allowed to keep their clerical collars should they make the switch.

I take inspiration from Jesus who insisted on the equal value of every human being. I take great joy in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Newark in its invitation to all people to be a part of the Christian community – and that whatever their gender or orientation, their gifts will be honored – and that their life-long relationships can be blessed.

Comments

The confusion arising from this problematic article is compounded by a mischaracterization of ecclesial authority which is then haphazardly compared to an out-of-focus snapshot of marriage.

Natural or traditional marriage has always been between heterosexuals. The very words marriage and matrimony denote a heterosexual communion ordered to the raising of children, the well being of husband and wife and the harmonization of society. No modern innovation or contrivance nor any ancient deviation can displace the heterosexual archetype of marriage and the complementarity and dynamic polarity creatively embodied by the union of husband and wife, male and female.

The following ancient witness might temper this article's selective and highly tendentious portrayal of the history of natural marriage: Pope Nicholas I (A.D. 866): "If the consent be lacking in a marriage, all other celebrations, even should the union be consummated, are rendered void." The Pope's statement shows the importance of a couple's consent to marriage.

The sacrament of matrimony has, at it's core, always been an icon of Christ (Bridegroom) and His Church (Bride). The natural family is an icon of the Trinity.

A failure to appreciate the distinction between equality and sameness results in a blurring of unique roles in the family and the free exercise of authority which accompanies those distinct yet necessarily equal roles. What is lost, then, is an understanding of reciprocity founded on the equality of persons made in God's image, while gender differences permit distinct and complementary functions related to the necessary care and well being of family members. Mom and dad exercise their authority within the family in equal but different selfless ways.

I attended the Montclair Town Council Meeting at the invitation of The Religious Society of Friends. The local clergy was ably represented by the Unitarian Minister. He did note that our good Bishop and local Episcopalian clergy endorsed the marriage equality resolution.

Thank you Mark.

peace and prayers,

jbm
St. Alban's

I am grateful that you have clarified some of the history of contracts pertaining to marriage. I believe that the right of human beings of any sex to marry precedes any right that may have been formulated or extended by either a state or a religious institution. In fact, our common rights are defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury needs to be exhorted to reflect on what this means and to take a much more robust position to assure that our Church behaves in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Human Rights Act of 1998; will you provide his address so that we can undertake a letter-writing campaign?

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