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Rev. Winnie Varghese Headshot

Full Marriage Equality in New York: A Clergy Perspective

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We are one vote away from same sex marriage in New York.

I am an Episcopal Priest in New York, watching, more than a little excited. The Episcopal Church is one of the churches that has come out in full support of the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, including the right to constitute family with a same sex partner.

I am writing to make only one point. State recognition of same sex marriage is about freedom, an all-American value, more libertarian than liberal. It is about removing a state imposed barrier in the construction of family.

As human beings, and specifically as persons of faith, we organize ourselves as families based upon values much more profound than simply the code of law of the country we happen to inhabit. As followers of Jesus our standards for relationship are quite high and often distinct from any legal requirements. The law does not require fidelity, love, skill in communication, or signs of a healthy relationship. The church increasingly requires articulation and signs of those kinds of qualities in relationship before blessing a marriage or relationship.

As a church we hold quite a diversity of opinions on this subject, but as a church we have not allowed those who hold one opinion to restrict the freedoms of other people. That is quite the opposite of what those who oppose gay marriage are trying to do. They are trying to maintain a level of discrimination, historic and traditional discrimination, but discrimination, a restriction on freedom enshrined in law that now also violates our common understanding of human sexual identity as diversely ordered in the human experience.

Episcopalians are often quite traditional and deliberate in our approach. We often do not make change quickly, and when we do, we do so informed by our tradition. We are proud of our tradition of holding human dignity and reason, our capacity to take in new information and respond faithfully, as foundational values undergirded by the teachings of Jesus as known to us in the Bible.

Marriage between members of the same sex reflects a new understanding of human beings and human sexuality. The law must change to reflect new truths, which should inform how we approach our scripture and tradition. In light of our newly formed understanding and respect for the experience of gay and lesbian persons, same sex marriage is a matter of civil rights, an increase in a fundamental freedom for a group oppressed by outdated, biased legislation.

For those religious leaders who are afraid, you will not be required to marry someone of the same sex. For those of you who have waited too long, our church hopes and prays with you.

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