Episcopalian stance on same-sex

by Tammy Tucker

Religious leaders and legislators added new dimensions to the same-sex union debate last week.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to amend immigration policy to give gay/lesbian partners of American citizens the same right to apply for citizenship as heterosexual spouses.
And after years of debate, the national Episcopal Church chose not to make a decision about whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages. The church concluded the decision is best left to individual dioceses.
“Those who were expecting the commission … to drop a bombshell on the highly controversial issue of ordinations of homosexuals and blessing of same-sex relationships are going to be disappointed,” James Solheim, Episcopal News Service director, wrote in a press release.
“The commission’s report … urges more dialogue and, until there is some consensus, leaving the dioceses to handle the issue.”
In Minnesota, the decision rests with the state diocese, which has been more liberal over the past few decades.
The church’s decision to not take a national stand on the issue is a good one, said Janet Wheelock, University Episcopal Center priest.
The role of the national church is to maintain unity, and taking a stand one way or the other would “absolutely tear the church apart,” she said.
Rather, Episcopalians should continue to discuss the subject, she added.
The debate over same-sex unions has two aspects: legal and religious, said Beth Zemsky, director of the University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Program Office.
More than 1,000 laws and policies grant heterosexual couples certain rights, such as access to health insurance, hospital visitation rights, adoption and immigration, Zemsky said. But gay/lesbian couples have no such protections.
Her office has several current cases in which international University students in long-term gay/lesbian relationships face deportation when their visas run out after graduation because same-sex unions are not legally recognized, she said.
These students would benefit from the new bill, titled Permanent Partners Immigration Act, Zemsky said.
Each spiritual body should make its own decisions about same-sex unions, but they should not try to impose those beliefs on the legal system, Zemsky said.
Episcopalians struggle with the issue from two different angles.
Some look strictly at the scriptures which say a man should not lie with a man, and a woman should not lie with a woman, Wheelock said.
Marriage between one man and one woman is implied in the Bible, she said.
Others believe the gift of marriage is meant for everybody. Any two people who seek a holy union in their Christian community should not be denied, Wheelock explained.
But the battle over gay/lesbian issues is based in the broader Christian understanding of sexuality.
“Religious education in the past has been about containing sexuality,” Wheelock said.
Christians should acknowledge and affirm their sexuality, she said, adding that they should move on to other issues.
“Let’s start with world hunger and refugees,” she said.

Tammy Tucker covers religion and welcomes comments at [email protected].