The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai'i on Saturday voted to encourage the state Legislature to pass marriage equality, the largest denomination to announce its support of an issue that has divided people of faith.
A resolution was approved by acclamation of the 180 Episcopalians who attended the diocese's annual convention at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, including 44 clergy. The diocese has 40 worshipping sites and about 9,000 parishioners statewide.
Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick said the Episcopal Church has been talking about full inclusion for the past three decades. He said the church's former presiding national bishop, Edmond Browning, spoke of the principle that there would be "no outcasts."
"We have been moving toward full inclusion as a diocese and a church for a very long time," Fitzpatrick said. "So for us, once civil unions were allowed in the state, we allowed the blessing of civil unions as one of the realities of our diocese. So the next move toward civil marriage is just the natural consequence.
"I think it's largely because, as a diocese, we've been engaged in this conversation a very long time. It's been open -- I've been in the diocese 15 years -- and we've worked through much of the contention."
Fitzpatrick said the resolution was a way for the diocese to say to itself and to the community: "We support marriage for all people on an equal basis."
The Cathedral of St. Andrew, one of Hawaii's most iconic churches, regularly hosts weddings for Japanese couples and other visitors, the potential trigger under the draft bill for also hosting gay weddings. But the Episcopal Church, unlike some of the more conservative churches, has not complained about the scope of a religious exemption in the bill.
The Episcopal Church's decision to endorse marriage equality follows expressions of support over the past few months from dozens of mostly liberal faith leaders and churches, including the Church of the Crossroads, the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu and the Unity Church of Hawai'i.
Religious leaders from the evangelical Christian, Catholic and Mormon churches have helped organize the opposition to the gay-marriage bill, which will be heard in special session starting Monday. The Hawaii Pastors Roundtable, which represents more than 200 congregations and 175,000 parishioners statewide, sent out a statement last week urging state lawmakers to preserve traditional marriage.
On Friday, meanwhile, 14 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals calling the bans on gay marriage in Hawaii and Nevada unconstitutional.
The appeals court is reviewing Jackson v. Abercrombie, a legal challenge by gay couples to Hawaii's marriage law, and a separate case from Nevada. If Hawaii lawmakers approve a gay-marriage bill and Gov. Neil Abercrombie signs it into law, the Hawaii challenge would be moot.
"Denying gay men and lesbians the fundamental right to wed the partner of their choosing offends basic principles of due process and equal protection, and fails to advance any legitimate governmental interest," according to the friend-of-the-court brief from the states.
The states that signed on to the brief are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Gay marriage is legal in all of those states except for Illinois, New Mexico and Oregon. ___