Thursday, March 19, 2009

Testimony on marriage equality

From Vermont's Bishop Tom Ely
[photo by "Caminante"]:

On Tuesday March 18, 2009, I gave testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Vermont Senate on the subject of religious freedom and marriage equity. Because I was attending a meeting of the House of Bishops in North Carolina that day, my testimony was delivered via a pre-recorded video message. Since this is a subject of considerable media coverage, I thought it would be good to share the written text of my testimony with you by way of my column in this edition of the Mountain Echo.

As I say in my testimony, I know that not every Episcopalian in Vermont agrees with me on the subject of marriage equity for gay and lesbian couples. I respect those differences and welcome further conversation about this matter. At the same time, there are important implications for the exercise of our pastoral ministry with gay and lesbian couples should this legislation pass and be signed into law, and I thought it was important to express my support for this initiative. In the months ahead I intend to have conversations with the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and members of the clergy about those implications. For now, it is one step at a time, and I invite you to receive my testimony with an open heart and mind.



Testimony on marriage equality
Vermont State Senate Judiciary Committee,
March 18, 2009

Senator Sears and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

My name is Thomas Ely. I am a resident of Burlington, Vermont, and serve as Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont. I have been happily married to Ann for 32 years. I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee in support of the matter before you: An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage. I especially appreciate the accommodation to my schedule and for allowing me to present my testimony by way of a pre-recorded video [recorded March 10, 2009]. From March 11-21, 2009, I am attending a meeting of the Bishops of The Episcopal Church in North Carolina, and therefore not able to be present in person.

The testimony I offer is my own, and while I believe it represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Episcopalians in Vermont, I know full well that it does not represent the view of all Episcopalians in Vermont. I want to acknowledge at the outset that our diocese, like most religious denominations, is not of one mind on the various issues concerning human sexuality that are currently part of our civil and religious discourse. I respect those differences and remain committed to conversation with those who disagree with my thinking. At the same time, I do hold strong convictions that are well known among the members of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, and my testimony today is consistent with those beliefs.

As a person of faith, my religious beliefs, grounded in the Bible and the Baptismal Covenant, 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. The intent of the legislation before you is consistent with that voice from our denomination’s highest form of governance.
Vermont has lived with a certain measure of equality for gay and lesbian couples since the enactment of our current Civil Union legislation. This legislation seeks to provide an even greater measure of equality and dignity. As you well know, because of federal statues this law cannot provide a full measure of equality, but it is a step in the right direction and sends an important message to our elected leaders in Washington. I applaud those who have introduced this legislation and encourage all legislators and our governor to support it.
Marriage equality means different things to different people, but among the things it means to me is that the values I hold dear in my own marriage and in the marriages of other men and women of faith can be celebrated by all. Those values include the mutual love and support of another person in a committed life-long relationship, in which fidelity, joy, help and comfort in all circumstances can be respected and practiced, and through which the stability of family can be provided for those who choose to care and nurture children. I do not believe that this legislation will diminish, or compromise, the integrity of marriage (certainly not my marriage). Rather, I believe it has the possibility to strengthen our understanding and appreciation of marriage as we witness the love and fidelity of gay and lesbian couples alongside that of straight couples.

Finally, as the title of this bill reflects, there is a need in this legislation to affirm the principle of religious freedom that is so much a part of our society. This bill will not settle the theological debate within religious communities—but that is not your work, is it! Your work is to serve the citizens of Vermont and to assure, to the best of your ability, the civil and human rights of all of us.
You need not, nor should not, wait for a consensus to emerge among the various religious communities active within our state. That is not likely to happen for a very long time. In this case, justice delayed is justice denied. The Episcopal Church, other Christian churches, and other religious faiths all have their work to do, and each will need to live with integrity with this new law, just as we have learned to live with the conviction of our various beliefs in response to Civil Union legislation.
This will not be easy for the Episcopal Church here in Vermont and throughout our denomination. Our Canons and our Book of Common Prayer are clear in the use of marriage as between one man and one woman. Many are working to expand that understanding, but that will require the action of our General Convention. In the meantime, we here in Vermont will continue to provide the very best pastoral care we can to all couples who seek God’s blessing on their faithful, committed, monogamous relationships.
The time is right for Vermont to move forward with what is right and just for all with regard to civil marriage and the many benefits it brings to couples and to society as a whole. Thank you for your attention to this important matter and for this opportunity to speak with you today.
You can thank the good bishop here for standing up and speaking out!


Caminante said...

Gee, I recognise that photo (b/e I took it in July 2007).

Do pray for his wife, Ann, and him as his father died just a few weeks ago and his father-in-law in January

And go over to my blog for an eye-witness (sort of) report of the hearing last night at the Vermont State House.


Photo credit duly noted!

IT said...

This is a great testmony. Upper NE has some excellent Bishops!