A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
This summer the Episcopal Church's General Convention will consider legislation that would authorize creation of rites that could be used to bless same-sex and other relationships marked by faithfulness, mutuality and respect. The 2000 General Convention affirmed such relationships, but stopped short of authorizing rites of blessing. Since then -- and even prior to that convention -- some bishops and dioceses have gone forward with allowing blessing rites to be developed and used. But there continues to be strong opposition to official approval of liturgies that could be used to bless these relationships. A coalition of groups and individuals known as Claiming the Blessing is working hard to turn the tide.
I completely understand the opposition to these rites that comes from Episcopalians who believe that homosexual relationships (never mind clouding the issue with transgender or bisexual identities) are sinful, pure and simple. This is a well-oiled Old Testament position that holds that homosexual relationships contaminate the community and must be resisted at all costs, just as we must prohibit certain foods and prohibit sex if the woman is menstruating. I don't agree, but I understand.
But what I find just about impossible to comprehend is the claim that allowing rites of blessing for couples who aren't eligible for marriage would weaken the institution of marriage itself.
How could that be so? Are those people (among them a good number of bishops) seriously suggesting that if the church authorizes rites of blessing for lgbt couples that everyone else will be tempted to opt for this sort of rite rather than for holy matrimony?
This would seem to be in the same category with the argument that if the church says that healthy homosexual relationships are possible our children will all be tempted to become gay, raging hormones not withstanding. Likewise, if you talk with adolescents about birth control they will immediately get it into their heads to have sex (again, as if those hormones had no role to play). It seems we'd rather have our children dead from AIDs or saddled with an unwanted pregnancy than risk that they have sex outside of marriage.
No, the only thing that can weaken the institution of marriage is the exercise of marriage itself. In fact, the institution of marriage could positively benefit from the addition of a rite of blessing for committed couples. If people who could get married choose not to because a rite of blessing seems to offer something better, church leaders could learn how to strengthen marriage as the life-giving institution it ought to be.
So I'm forced to conclude that something else must be behind this position that marriage will be weakened by a rite of blessing. I've noticed that the people who take this stance are also the ones who most commonly reject the idea that authorizing same-sex blessings is a justice issue. And I think I know why. For these people, the essential article of faith is that persons who self-identify as heterosexual are superior to people who do not. That heterosexuals are a cut above. That they alone are entitled to well-being.
These are people, in other words, who are tending the flame of prejudice, oppression and privilege in the name of the sanctity of marriage. In the name of justice, they'd have to repent of their cherished superiority.
Considered in this light, maybe their claim that authorizing a rite of blessing might weaken the institution of marriage is, on second thought, justified. Thoughtful heterosexual couples seeking holiness of life together -- a life of mutality, equity and freedom from prejudicial and patriarchal assumptions -- might really like another option than the church's heterosexist marraige rite.
I know I would. But don't take what I say too seriously. Marriage, after all, is too good for the likes of a lesbian like me.
Julie A. Wortman
The Witness magazine (www.thewitness.org)
8 Ridge Road
Tenants Harbor, ME 04860
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