Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One of my heroes ...

... is Bishop Tom Ely of Vermont.

His prophetic leadership as a Bishop in the Church of God has reached far beyond the boundaries of Vermont. His vision and compassion make him a leader not just in the House of Bishops but a respected voice in the wider communion. And I cannot overstate the impact of his personal pastoral care for so many of us who have labored together toward the goal of fully including all the baptized in the life, work and witness of this church we love. So, without further ado and as a case-in-point, here is Bishop Tom Ely's recent testimony at the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection.


My name is Thomas Ely. I live in Burlington and serve as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont. I have been happily married to Ann for 31 years and tonight I want to offer a brief word in support of civil marriage equality for all Vermonters.

As a person of faith, my religious convictions have led me to speak out for human and civil rights in a broad range of areas over the years. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in resolution after resolution has, since 1976, consistently expressed its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and it has called upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality. I am here tonight in response to those resolutions and the Baptismal Covenant of The Episcopal Church, and the compelling case they make for people of faith to respect and work for the dignity of every human being.

The state has a compelling interest in providing equality in the matter of civil rights to all people. The provision for Civil Unions in Vermont was a positive step in assuring that those civil rights that automatically extend to married couples also extend to gay and lesbian couples. But the aim with Civil Unions was a separate but equal status. In the reality of our having lived with Civil Unions in Vermont for seven years now, we know that as was true with school segregation, so too with Civil Unions and Civil Marriage: separate is not equal. Discrimination does continue, and while making provision for marriage equality for all couples here in Vermont will not end the discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in other states and in the federal laws, it will be an important step in the right direction.

The other point I want to emphasize tonight is that providing the civil right of civil marriage to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike would not compel any religious community to perform marriages of same-sex couples. The state allows ordained clergy and certain other designated religious persons to act as agents of the state with regard to civil marriage, but no clergyperson is required by the state to do so. Different religious communities have different theological views on the subject of matrimony. The privilege and religious freedom to express and act upon those convictions is not compromised by the state providing civil marriage and the subsequent civil rights of marriage to all couples. It is my conviction that the church can and should support civil marriage for all - even if, at this time we are not of one mind about the church’s involvement in these ceremonies.

To date, 31 Episcopal Clergy are among the many religious leaders who have signed the Vermont Declaration of Religious Support for the Freedom of Same-Gender Couples to Marry. They have done so, knowing full well that the Canons of the Episcopal Church will need to change before they could preside at such weddings for same sex couples. While currently, they can preside at Civil Union ceremonies, they recognize as do I, that being “unioned” or “partnered” is not the same as being “married.”

I hope the work of this Commission will help Vermonters understand that reality and give encouragement to our state legislature to make civil marriage possible for all couples.
Let the people say "Amen." (And let the people, if they are so inclined to thank Bishop Ely for his good work and grace-filled witness click here to send him a note of thanks!)

1 comment:

Muthah+ said...

Do you know which dioceses accept lg clergy in partnered relationships?